Apart from chugo, (dried, hardened cubes of cheese), what visitors and travellers passing through Bumthang normally wish to take home from the valley, are balls of cheese and butter.
However, save for the chugo, cheese and butter, particularly the cheese, is difficult to come by.
People heading towards either the west of the east through the dzongkhag normally look for cheese to take with them as gifts to relatives and friends or for self-consumption.
Recently a few officials of a corporate firm, returning to Thimphu from their tour of the east, left one of the two cheese outlets disappointed.
Except for two one-litre bottles of dao (diluted butter milk), which they quickly grabbed, the sales counter at the outlet was cleared off of cheese and butter.
Forget visitors, even residents, who compete among themselves for the dairy products often return home disappointed from the two milk processing units in Jakar.
Because of growing demand for both butter and cheese from residents of Chamkhar town, sales people of the two units said the products were always booked in advance.
“Or they wait at the factory to buy the dairy products as they are made,” a member of Chhoekhor Gonor Gongphel Chithuen Tshogpa, a committee of farmers formed in 2004, said.
The committee has been collecting milk from about seven villages of Chhoekhor gewog to churn them into local cheese and butter and what was left at the end of the process was turned into dao, which was sold for Nu 26 a litre.
The committee’s unit located at Tamshing received milk around 9am everyday following which workers got straight into the process of making local cheese balls and butter that took between three and four hours.
One committee member Samdrup, 53, said they received about 350 to 400 litres of milk in winters with which they could produce only about 60 to 70 balls of local cheese, about 12kg of butter and 100 litres of dao.
“In summers, the quantity of milk would increase to about 700 litres a day with which we make about 80 balls of local cheese, about 25kg of butter and more than 200 litres of dao,” he said. “These products don’t even last an hour in the factory sometimes. It’s in high demand the year round.”
A kilogram of butter costs Nu 290 and a ball of local cheese Nu 35.
The other milk-processing unit in Bathpalathang also produces local cheese, butter and dao.
Apart from that, they also produce Gouda, a round, yellow cheese covered in a wax rind of a sort, named after Dutch town of Gouda, which is popular among tourists.
This unit fetches about 300 litres of milk during winter to make about 180 balls of local cheese, 15kg of butter and 10 litres of dao on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
On the other days, the unit makes Gouda cheese.
“In summers, we get about 800 litres of milk and we can make about 300 balls of local cheese and about 20kg of butter,” the unit’s owner Yoezer Lhamo, 52, said.
The local cheese costs Nu 40 a ball and Nu 340 for a kg of butter. Dao is sold for Nu 25 a litre.
Yoezer Lhamo said they made about seven pieces of Gouda cheese a day during winters and about 10 in summer.
“The cheese weighs 5kg and a kilogram-slice costs Nu 410,” she said.
The unit also produces skimmed milk sold for Nu 27 a litre and cream for Nu 350 a litre.
She said it was usually the locals that bought the skimmed milk, while hotels and resorts that dot the valley took the cream.
“How much ever we produce, there is never enough,” she said, adding hotels, lhakhangs and dratshangs booked local cheese and butter in advance. “There is never anything left and it hardly reaches my shop as people take the products directly from the factory.”
These two units have no plans of expanding their businesses.
A resident in Chamkhar, Sangay said she made do with imported cheese as an alternative.
By Sonam Choden, Bumthang