Where Does Rushan Cheese Come From?
Everyone who has visited China or any Chinese restaurants around the world must have ever encountered a traditional Chinese cheese called Rushan. But where does Rushan cheese come from? Rushan cheese is a traditional Chinese cheese, but it is more specifically originating from the Yunnan region and traditionally made by Bai people. Together with Rubing, Rushan is considered Bai people’s special cheeses. You can get both kinds of cheese and other Yunnan unique cuisines at most Chinese restaurants around the world.
What Is Rushan Cheese?
There are two types of cheese that are traditionally made by Bai people: Rushan and Rubing. In fact, of all Yunnan cuisines that are considered popular around the world, Rushan and Rubing are mostly the only Yunnan cheeses available on the menu. Dairy foods are indeed rare in Chinese culinary tradition and for Chinese people, cheese is considered the least popular food. Therefore, it is quite normal if there are only a few kinds of cheese in Chinese restaurants’ menus and when you find ones, they are mostly Rushan and Rubing.
Despite the rarity of dairy products in the Chinese culinary tradition and the near absence of cheese, when Chinese people do make one, it is actually quite special with a taste that you can hardly forget. And it becomes even more popular and special, especially due to the way it is served. Rushan and Rubing cheeses are normally served after being stir-fried. And stir-fried cheese is something that you can never find anywhere except in China. This is all the reason why Yunnan cheeses remain popular both inside and outside China.
What Makes Rushan Cheese Special?
What makes Rushan different from Rubing is the primary ingredient from which both kinds of cheese are made. Rushan is made from cow’s milk whereas Rubing is made from goat’s milk. Rushan also has very much different look from that of Rubing and this difference is actually the source of their different name. Rubing (ru = milk; bing = cake) means a cake made of milk. It looks like a white brick-shaped cake with rounded edges and corners. Rushan (ru = milk; shan = fan) means a cheese shaped like a folding fan.
Rushan cheese is sold in sheets measuring about 30 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide. Just like other types of cheese, Rushan cheese can also be eaten raw, although locals prefer to cut it in pieces and then stir-fry the pieces until the creamy white cheese turns brown. The stir-fried cheese has both special taste and special texture. The crispy rind is delicious to bite and the hot and soft center will melt in your mouth. Many people find this a unique experience of eating cheese.
Where does Rushan Cheese Come From?
Where does Rushan cheese come from? It comes from Yunnan, right? However, because cheesemaking is a rare thing in China, understanding only its regional origin may not be satisfactory and digging deeper into its real origin would be a very interesting endeavor.
Chapter 3 of the Dengchuan Gazetteer mentions that a cheese called Ruxian, which literally means milk string, had already become a common Chinese cuisine in the Ming era around the 17th century. Considering the way the gazetteer tells about the cheesemaking procedure and the daily volume of its production, Ruxian can be considered the Rushan cheese that is popular today.
There is also Chinese folklore telling about how a Chinese servant called Zhang Zhi accidentally discovered this cheese after heating sour milk in a wok, mixing it with fresh milk, scooping the solid top that is formed, and spreading it into sheets. Locals finally learned from him this technique to preserve their milk, hence the origin of Rushan cheese.
Rushan Cheese Is Original Yunnan Cheese
Based on the accounts above, it is safe for us to conclude that Rushan cheese was independently invented by Bai people to preserve their milk. Cheesemaking is indeed not necessarily an imported technique. Anyone who keeps a dairy farm for long enough will eventually discover a particular cheesemaking technique by accident to preserve their milk. Almost every region on earth has its own unique cheeses, such as Paneer in India and Domiati in Egypt. This is also corroborated by the fact that Rushan cheese is actually very easy and simple to make. This conclusion, nevertheless, doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Rushan cheesemaking technique could be imported from abroad by Buddhist monks and foreign settlers.
So, where does Rushan cheese come from? Based on all available historical documents, Rushan cheese is an original Bai people’s cheese with little possibility that its production technique is imported from abroad.
How Is Rushan Cheese Made?
Rushan cheese is made by heating non-pasteurized cow milk and then adding sour milk or vinegar to it. The sour ingredient, together with the bacteria that are still living in the non-pasteurized milk, allows the milk to curdle fast. While being heated, the milk mixture is stirred using chopsticks. The curd is then quickly separated from the whey.
The curd is then removed and stretched using fingers and chopsticks on a pair of bamboo poles. These bamboo poles are used to further shape the cheese into sheets. Two sheets of Rushan cheese are then stacked together. These stacked cheese sheets are the ones generally found in the food market.
There is one notable fact about Rushan cheesemaking technique compared with Italian cheesemaking technique. In the West, especially in Italy, the same curd with the same taste and texture can be obtained during the production process of mozzarella. However, unlike the fresh curd in mozzarella, the fresh curd in Rushan cheese is never eaten straight. Bai people are used to drying the curd first before further processing it into cheese sheets.
Even in its finished form, Rushan cheese is rarely eaten straight, although it is possible to do so. As mentioned earlier in this article, Bai people, as well as the Chinese people who popularize the cheese, prefer to serve the cheese after stir-frying it—a procedure that gives the cheese its unique taste and texture.
Where does Rushan cheese come from? This original Yunnan cheese certainly has many unique features that make it a distinct cheese that you can hardly find outside the place where it originates from.