Slightly sour and salty churpi, a naturally fermented cheese prepared from the milk of Arunachali yak, nurtured in the high-altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh, has recently received the prestigious Geographical Indication (GI) tag. This recognition not only celebrates the culinary heritage of the region but also plays a vital role in the conservation of the yak population in the Himalayan region. Churpi, rich in protein, has been a lifeline for tribal yak herders in the harsh, vegetation-starved, cold, and hilly mountainous regions of the state.
Churpi: A Nutritional Lifeline
Churpi, a traditional cheese made from yak milk, has been a staple food for tribal communities in Arunachal Pradesh. Its nutritional profile, rich in protein, makes it a vital dietary source, especially in regions where fresh vegetables are scarce. The yak herders, belonging mainly to the Brokpa and Monpa tribes in West Kameng and Tawang districts, rely on churpi as a substitute for vegetables in their diet. Its versatility allows it to be incorporated into various dishes, including vegetable or meat curries, and served with rice, serving as a crucial component of the daily tribal diet.
Preserving Tangible Cultural Heritage
Churpi is not just a food item; it holds deep cultural significance for the people of Arunachal Pradesh. It is considered an integral part of the tangible cultural and tribal heritage of the region. The cheese-making process, passed down through generations, is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of these tribes.
Seeking GI Tag for Yak Churpi
The National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY), based in Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh, has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve the unique Arunachali yak breed and promote yak pastoralism. In December of the previous year, the NRCY submitted an application for the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for yak churpi. The GI tag, recently approved, now provides a geographical identification for the product and safeguards against its production in other areas.
Socio-Economic Upliftment and Yak Conservation
The registration of yak churpi of Arunachal Pradesh as a GI product serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it contributes to the conservation of the unique Arunachali yak breed, known for its distinctive body shape, size, strain, and weight. Arunachali yaks are the only registered breed in India, highlighting their importance in the region. Secondly, this recognition holds immense potential for the socio-economic upliftment of the nearly 1,000 yak herders, predominantly belonging to the Brokpa and Monpa tribes.
A Source of Nutrient-Rich Milk
Yak milk, the primary ingredient in churpi, is a nutritional powerhouse. It is creamy white, thick, sweetish, fragrant, and boasts a higher content of protein, fat, lactose, minerals, and solids compared to cow milk. Although raw yak milk is relatively scarce due to the remote habitat of yak rearing, most of it is processed into traditional products like chhurpi (wet soft cheese), churkam (hard cheese), and Mar (butter). A small portion of raw milk is reserved for making butter tea, a beloved local beverage.