Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cheese Smugglin'

Quite frankly I have failed quite miserably in achieving a very important goal of Peace Corps with this blog. The goal is to share the culture of your host country with those living back in the states. True of the matter is that I have spent much of my precious blogging time writing about myself, my own projects, my reflections, and my ups and downs. ME ME ME!... and ZILCH really about Salvadorans and their culture. So, I am going to try to be better about that from now on. This post is not about me or what I do. This is about some (focused mainly on my family) Salvadorans in Caserio Upire and what they do. Just written by yours truly.
That brings me to cheese. Well all milk products, lacteos. In my area of El Salvador cattle ranching and cheese making are a way of life. Many families here have cows and produce a variety of products with the milk. But more than just a way of is a source of pride, joy, and a tremendous amount of work. And I hope to document just how much work it entails in this post. It all starts with a cow...

First, the men (typically) get up at 5 a.m. to milk said cows. Milking cows is hard hard work. It is not at all cool or glamorous. At around 7-8 a.m they usually bring in the milk and put it through a sieve and leave it to rest in this big bucket covered by two big wooden blocks. We sell milk 6 cups for 1$. It is a popular purchase, but we often don't sell it after 10 a.m. because it messes up the cream that they skim. After 10 a.m usually if you want the milk they have to blow the cream to the side and take the milk from below the cream, which they don't generally like to do.

The milk generally sits covered until about noon where then my host mom will skim the first layer of cream. Creama/mantequilla (cream or butter) as it is often known is probably one of or the most popular item we make. It costs 1$ per cup. My host mom will skim the cream again around 4 p.m., leaving essentially skimmed milk. Creama/matequilla changes over time and some people prefer it fresco (fresh day of style) or they like it as it gets older and harder (more like our typical butter).

After the cream has all been skimmed we move on to making cuajada, which is a soft spongy type cheese. It is made by placing a pill (cuajo/rennet) into the milk that is left. My host mother then places her hands into the milk to help the cheese form together with the heat of her hands.

When the cheese is completely formed together it is cut into cubes and then covered in salt. We sell cuajada for $1.75 a pound. This cheese also gets harder over time and some people prefer the harder stuff. I like it fresh and spongy. ;)

Following the cuajada it is time to make the requeson, which is my absolute favorite! You can see the liquid at the bottom of the cuajada above-- it is used for to make the requeson. All of that liquid is put over the fire and boiled. The requeson rises to the top and you remove it from the fire and put it in a cloth to strain, which looks like this: 

Requeson (1$ a pound) is not popular at all. Actually I am the only one that eats it really. I think this is because it is basically a soft, creamy, fat free ricotta cheese, so most people don't think it is that good. I think it is declicious and eat way more of it than I should. I eat so much of eat my family actually refuses to sell it to paying customers. Oh the shame! 

The last and final product that we make is hard cheese. Basically you take the cuajada (above) and crumble it into tiny pieces and then shove it in the weird wooden block thing pictured below where it typically sits for 3 or more days to harden. When it is done it looks like a giant block of hard cheese. It is REALLY popular and a token favorite and costs about $3 a pound! The longer it sits the harder it gets. Here it is often a harder, crumbly cheese. I like it, but I often find it very very salty (like everything in El Sal). 

There you have cheese production in Casa Sorto. All of the steps up to the requeson take place EVERY SINGLE DAY. The making of hard cheese happens once in awhile when they want to make hard cheese and not cuajada. It is a tedious process and requires a lot of energy and dedication. For that I deeply admire my host family for their lifestyle and their ability to make delicious lacteos!!!

*The title of this post comes from the fact that my site (and the surrounding area) because of their locations near the border have had cheese smuggling operations taking place between Honduras and El Salvador based on fluctuating prices.

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