Communities in the villages of Tartar and Soibee, and many other communities in the area, have long produced an unusual yoghurt, made using milk from cows (crosses between local breeds and zebu) or goats, mixed with the ash of the native cromwo tree. Known in the local language as lolon chomi suton (mala ya kienyeji or kamabele kambou in Swahili), ash yoghurt plays an extremely important role in the diet and culture of the Pokot community, and used to be one of the staple foods for herders as they looked for pasture.
Livestock farming is now less common and there is less milk available, leading to a significant reduction in yoghurt production. Additionally the community has lost pride in their own food culture. The yoghurt is now produced by just a few families for their own consumption and any surplus is only occasionally sold at local markets.
Ash yoghurt is produced from raw milk and has a smooth, thick, fluid consistency. Cow's milk and goat's milk are never mixed, but processed separately to make two different types of yoghurt. The cow's milk yoghurt is for men while the goat's milk yoghurt, with an intense flavor and a high nutritional value, is for women and children. The flavor also varies according to the duration of fermentation. The animals are pasture-raised and milked by hand twice a day. The milk is collected in a calabash, a traditional gourd, and left to rest for at least three days. The gourd has a very hard skin, and to make a container it is hollowed out, dried and then treated with boiling water, cromwo wood and milk in successive phases to remove any traces of bitterness.
When the gourds are ready, they are filled with milk and ash is added. They are left to rest somewhere cool and dry, on a special rack hung on the internal wall of the huts or partially buried. After the whey is drained off, the containers are closed and shaken rhythmically. The ash has disinfectant properties, improves the flavor of the yoghurt and gives it a
characteristic pale gray color.
With this project, Slow Food wants to protect a very unusual product, part of the Pokot community's identity. Through the yoghurt, Slow Food wants to help strengthen the community, which is already almost completely self-sufficient. The most important work will be with animal health and the gradual improvement of the production process, leading eventually to a quality product that respects tradition but is also safer and more hygienic. Once this preliminary work has been carried out, more energy can be invested into marketing the product. Currently low production volumes means marketing is limited and the yoghurt is mostly consumed by the community. With the opening of a sales point in the nearby town of Makutano, the members of the Tarsoi Group will have a regular source of income for the first time.
Through the participation of producers at international events like Cheese, AlGusto, Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, Slow Food also wants to give this extraordinary product the respect it deserves, which will hopefully translate into pride and a further motivational boost for the farmers.