When you hear the term donkey, cheese is probably the last thing that you think of. Honestly, who knew they even made milk? Well, they do, but only about two to four cups per day. The milk alone is so scarce, you wouldn’t think anyone would be able to use it for anything. However, in the farmlands of Serbia, a single farm is making a killing off of Donkey Cheese.
Donkey Cheese, also called “Pule”, is famous for being the most expensive cheese in the world. It is rare, difficult to make, and nearly impossible to get your hands on.
Why is Donkey Cheese So Expensive?
Much like cows, a female donkey can only make milk after she has had a baby. However, donkeys are pregnant anywhere from eleven to fourteen months. That’s a good stretch longer than the cow’s nine! So in order for a farmer to get milk from a donkey, they must wait almost a year and a half for it to be safe to milk them. Once they do, it is minimal production per donkey per day; The Balkan Donkey specifically.
It takes 6.5 gallons of donkey milk to make just 1kg of Pule. That’s almost 3x as much as required from cow’s milk. On top of that, you need more than just milk to be able to make cheese from donkey milk, because it does not have nearly as much casein as cow, sheep, or goat milk does.
Zasavica Special Nature Reserve in Serbia is run by Slobodan Simic, who, along with one other donkey expert, are the only 2 people in the world to know the exact recipe for Donkey Cheese. It is made with mostly donkey milk, with a bit of goat milk, and takes many months before the final product is ready.
What Does Donkey Cheese Taste Like?
We have heard from the lucky few that have actually tried donkey cheese, that it is a rich, sweet, and slightly nutty-tasting cheese, unlike any dairy you may have tried before. It is a fairly soft cheese, albeit a bit crumbly. It has been described to have a grassy or somewhat floral aroma.
Donkey Milk History
Donkey milk, believe it or not, has actually been used dating all the way back to 2500 BC. One of the most famous ways we see it being mentioned is with Cleopatra. Legend says that the Queen of ancient Egypt used to bathe in the milk of donkeys, requiring a herd of hundreds of jennies to get the amount needed for her daily habit.
Throughout history, donkey milk has shown to have anti-wrinkle properties, and be good for the skin in a multitude of ways. In Rome, Emperor Nero’s wife, Poppea was said to use the milk of donkeys to keep her skin supple and shiny. Likewise, the Roman Empress Messalina was known for soaking bread in donkey milk and using it as a face mask back in 11 BC – 54 AD.
In the early 20th century, donkey milk was marketed as baby formula, used to feed infants and also the elderly because of its incomparable likeness to human breast milk. Not only does donkey milk contain similar lactose, proteins, minerals, and amino-acid content as breast milk, but its sweet flavor has also been found to be attractive to children. It is considered hypoallergenic because it is tolerated by 90% of infants with food allergies. However, it does still contain lactose so a better option for those with lactose intolerance may be some type of nut or oat milk.
Donkey milk can be frozen to extend the shelf life up to 2-3 months. It can also be freeze-dried to preserve the quality of the milk. Freeze-dried donkey milk has a shelf life of 2 years, and since it is normally made with pasteurized milk it is read to use.
Freeze-dried donkey milk is one of the most popular ways it is sold, because of its shelf life. You can reconstruct the milk by adding water or add the powder to smoothies. Some will opt to simply add it to gel capsules and take in small amounts like a vitamin.
Donkey Milk Products
Most recently, donkey milk is used mainly in the cosmetic industry. When formulated properly, it has been shown to have the potential to treat eczema, acne, psoriasis, and even herpes by calming the irritation.
As stated above, the anti-inflammatory properties of donkey milk make it an excellent choice for certain skin ailments. Now, that’s not to say you should follow in Cleopatra’s footsteps and start bathing in it (you would certainly need the riches equivalent to that of an Egyptian queen if you ever wanted to try it).
However, there are many companies that have incorporated donkey milk into their formulas. It is most popular as a face cream due to it being an effective anti-wrinkle.
Have you ever used goat milk soap? Donkey milk is very similar. Now, luxurious skincare may definitely not be what you think of when you think about farm animals, but leave it to mankind to make it so.
Donkey milk has very high concentrations of vitamin E, amino acids, vitamins A, B1, B6, Vitamin C, D, E, and Omega 3 and 6. Its natural sugars lend to the creamy, rich, and bubbly lather, donkey milk soap is purported to stimulate cell regeneration, decrease the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Using it daily can soothe inflammation caused by acne and eczema and also moisturize dehydrated skin.
Donkey milk has a PH level close to that of human skin, so it can help balance sebum. In doing so, it keeps the skin hydrated and decreases your chance of a breakout.
Unlike a cow which has almost 5 times more casein than it does whey, donkey milk has equal parts casein and whey. This makes it much more tolerable for those who may have a cow milk allergy. As previously stated, this makes it an excellent hypoallergenic option due to the fact that a large percentage of infants with allergies can tolerate formula made with donkey milk.
It’s quite interesting that of all animals, the milk of a donkey most closely resembles human breast milk. It’s unfortunate that it is produced in such small amounts, but that makes it all the more valuable.
Whether it is the most expensive cheese in the world, an age-defying face cream, or hypoallergenic infant formula, it’s clear that donkeys and the milk they provide are an excellent and rare resource that must be protected.
We can all take a page out of Slobodan Simic’s book. He has dedicated his life to rescuing these donkeys, and although he’s famous for being the only farm in the world to produce donkey cheese, he does not let that be his main focus. They are valuable for so much more but are also extremely loving animals that deserve protection.