Have you ever heard of Churpi? Churpi (also spelled chhurpi) is a traditional Himalayan cheese made from churned yak’s and cow’s milk consumed in Nepal and Tibet. Two varieties of Churpi, a soft and a hard, are made by churning and straining the milks by hand before wrapping the semi-solid residue in cloth and hanging it to dry and ferment. Once the cheese is fermented, the cheesemakers cut the cheese into sticks or cubes. The hard variety is allowed to dry further, resulting in a chewy dried cheese stick. While these cheese sticks are a popular domestic snack in Nepal, an article in The Malay Online recently introduced us to the latest use for Churpi: dog treats.
It was in Nepal that an American friend of Sujan Shrestha first tasted the dried Churpi sticks. But instead of thinking, “These are good! I’m going to bring some back for my friends in America,” we’re assuming he thought, “These are good! I’m going to bring some back for my dog in America.” Yes, his dog. Churpi has become the darling ingredients for dog treats in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, and Japan, where the cheese sticks are imported and marketed as such.
Let’s pause for a moment. Imagine that your friend comes to visit you. You encourage your friend to try one of your favorite snacks: something traditionally American, something steeped in culture, something that necessitates laborious training and knowledge to produce (we kid); arguably, a snack with a cult following: the Cheezit. “Blegh,” your friend says. “I wouldn’t even feed that to my dog. No, wait. Yes I would.” Bang. Lightbulb moment.
Rightly so, Shrestha, now the founder of a company that produces Churpi sticks for use as dog treats, says that he was initially offended by the idea. But money is a quick and effective antidote to offense. He saw, and took advantage of, this “lightbulb moment.” In 2007, Shrestha and a few friends set up a stall at a Washington, D.C., farmer’s market to sell the treats. Within half an hour, they were sold out. Since then, Shrestha has continued his success selling Churpi under the company name Himalayan Dog Chew, one of a handful of businesses, including another named Yeti Dog Chew, marketing the product. Nepal exported around 300 tons of the stuff in 2013, with suppliers struggling to keep up with demand.
While Churpi manufacturing had traditionally taken place in Nepal, Shrestha recently opened a production plant in Seattle, Wash. This cuts down on export and labor costs and relieves some of the work placed on Himalayan farmers who produce the cheese. Dogs and owners agree, we guess. Churpi is the treat dogs (and perhaps their owners) love.
Featured Image courtesy Ganga Gurung, screenshot via Youtube.com