In the Kenyan district of West Pokot, communities in the villages of Tarsoi, Tartur, Lition and Chaunet traditionally produced an unusual food product: a yogurt made using milk from cows (crosses between local breeds and zebù) and local galla goats, mixed with the ash of the native cromwo tree.
Known in local dialect as mala ya kienyeji or kamabele kambou, ash yogurt used to be extremely important in the diet of the Pokot community, and was one of the staple foods for herdsmen looking for pasture.
Ash yogurt is produced from raw milk and has a thick but fluid consistency. The milk from cows and goats is not mixed, but processed separately to make two different types of yogurt. The cow's milk yogurt is for men, while the goat's milk yoghurt, a product with an intense flavor, recognized for its nutritional value, is for women and children.
The flavor varies according to the duration of fermentation. The animals are pasture-fed and milked manually twice a day.
The milk is collected in a calabash, a traditional container made from pumpkin and gourd varieties, and let stand for at least three days.
To make a container from gourd, the hard skin is hollowed out, dried and smoked on the wood of the cromwo, the same tree used for the ash.
Once the whey has been drained, the gourd is closed again and agitated with regular movements. When the yogurt is ready, the ash is added, providing disinfectant properties, a unique aromatic taste and a characteristic bright grey color.
As livestock farming is now less widespread and milk is less available, there has been a significant reduction in the production of the yogurt, today produced by a few families for their own consumption.
In 2009, following research on traditional foods in the Molo area carried out by students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, a Slow Food Presdium was started to protect the Pokot ash yogurt.
With assistance from technical experts, the Slow Food Foundation is helping the producers to improve product quality and quantity of the yogurt by optimizing each stage of production, from animal health and milking, to processing and preserving the milk. There are also plans to set up and equip a communal workshop. In addition, the Presidium is working to increase awareness of the product in the district and neighboring areas, and to give producers opportunities for international exchanges to share information.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Oliver Migliore
Presidium supported by — Stiftung Drittes Millenium