At the cheese counters in supermarkets, one can only find imported cheeses that are mostly from Europe, ranging from cheddar to parmesan and goat cheese to blue cheese. Original, indigenous Chinese dairy products seem to be missing from the party.
The Chinese people have a long history of consuming dairy products similar to Western cheeses, especially in regions where animal husbandry is the dominant industry and dairy is an important element in their cuisine.
Rushan and rubing
Rushan and rubing are among the most prominent Chinese cheeses. Traditionally made by the Bai people in Yunnan Province, rushan is called yenx seinp or nvxseiz in the Bai dialect and rubing is known as youdbap.
The Bai people mostly live in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. The Erhai basin has fertile lands where crops such as rice, wheat and beans are grown, while the Dongchuan District under the jurisdiction of Kunming and Eryuan County in the north of Dali have rich meadows and grasslands providing an ideal environment to raise cows.
Sheep and goats are raised in Dali's Jianchuan and Heqing counties where there are more hills.
Along with other cheeses from the Bai culture in Yunnan Province, rushan shares similarities with Italian cheeses. Bryan Allen and Silvia Allen of SIL International referred to the Bai cheese as Mozzarella of the East in the article "Mozzarella of the East: Cheese-making and Bai culture."
The Chinese word rushan directly translates to milk fan, while rubing, milk cake. The two cheeses have very different ingredients and appearances. To make rushan, the thin, long sheets of cream-colored cheese, fresh cow's milk is warmed in a wok, then acid water is added so the milk curdles. Stirring the milk will quickly separate it into curds and whey.
The warm curds are then pulled from the wok with chopsticks and shaped into cakes by hand before being rolled around sticks and stretched into a fan shape.
Locals usually deep-fry rushan because the puffed-up cheese becomes light, crispy and meltingly delicious. Rushan can also be eaten raw or cooked with other local ingredients such as Yunnan ham in stir-fry style. Dried rushan is covered with a wet cloth for 20 minutes so it softens, then it's sliced and added to the wok with leeks, pork or ham, mushrooms and green peppers, seasoning with salt and sugar.
Rushan is one of the key ingredients in the three-course tea ceremony of the Bai people, which emphasizes three flavors with each course — bitter, sweet and meaningful aftertaste. The second course adds rushan, brown sugar and cinnamon to create a sweet tea that symbolizes the satisfactions in life.
Unlike rushan, which can only be made with cow's milk, rubing can use either cow's or goat's, and the latter is actually more traditional. The word youdbap means "goat's milk" in the Bai dialect.