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Curd and the Karamojong

December 2002 saw the first of several journeys I made to a remote corner of northeastern Uganda to work alongside a veterinarian friend stationed among the nomadic Karamojong people. While there, I was asked if I could teach basic cheesemaking to this community of itinerant cattle keepers, in the hope that they might preserve some of their precious milk supply for lean times.

A member of the Karamojong gleefully passes out cheese

The project was a great adventure for all of us. I had never made cheese outdoors without tools in sweltering equatorial heat; the Karamojong had never even tasted cheese, let alone created it. Talk about a cultural exchange…

A Karamojong man holds a kid in his arms

The Karamojong raise primarily cattle, but goats are kept for meat and milk from the does is given to women and children.

A herd of goats in their pen within the kraal

Both the Karamojong and their animals stay within the kraal (nomadic village), protected by a handmade fence of thick tree limbs interwoven with dense thorny branches

Five tribesman pose in the setting sun with their AK-47s

The Karamojong are fiercely independent from the rest of Uganda. They value their cattle above all and routinely defend them from raids with the assistance of spears and AK-47s.

Testing the curd

One if the new cheesemakers tests the curd to see if it has coagulated; this phenomenon caused lots of excitement.

Author relaxing

At a nearby mission, I find some rare relaxation, shade, and a friendly goat.

Improvised cheesemaking equipment

Some very improvised cheesemaking equipment included ladies hosiery for draining curds and this handmade wooden cheese press.

A tribesman hauls water from a hand-dug well

To find water for cattle, a six-foot-deep hole is dug by hand into a dry riverbed.

A dozen wheels of new cheese

Rustic wheels of the Karamojong’s raw cow’s milk cheeses at about two weeks old; they would be aged under mosquito netting for another two months.

Author jumping with the tribe

Despite tough living conditions, the Karamojong have a joyful spirit, which is often displayed in celebratory singing and jumping. I miss that.

Kate Arding

Kate Arding is an independent dairy consultant specializing in small-scale cheese production and an original co-founder of culture: the word on cheese. A native of Britain, Kate has worked in the farmhouse cheese industry for 18 years, first as wholesale manager for Neal's Yard Dairy in London and later helping establish Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods in California. Since 2003 Kate has worked extensively both in the United States and overseas as an independent consultant, specializing in affinage, sales and marketing, and helping small-scale cheesemakers adapt to changing market demands.