A work around has made camel milk cheese possible.
Yes, you can milk a camel. Yes, you can make dairy products out of camel milk. Yes, they are edible. Three facts which may be shocking to the majority and perhaps slightly off putting until the unique flavor is fully experienced.
Camels get bad press for being ugly, grumpy and for spitting, so what in the world would make us want to drink their milk? Never judge a book by its cover, as it seems that all of these myths are to be dispelled and camel milk cheese may, in fact, be the next new ‘Superfood’. Cleopatra was said to have bathed in it, so why have we not explored it again for so long?
The largest area of camel milk production is dominated by countries in North and East Africa and the Middle East. It has also long been cherished by Nomadic, Pastoral and Bedouin cultures, where they could spend months living on camel milk alone whilst taking the animals out on long journeys to graze, proving the milk to be incredibly nutritious.
There are now increasing numbers of Australian farmers choosing to keep camels, a species first introduced to Australia in the 1800s to assist in the exploration of the country’s vast interior and outback, according to Michelle Meehan of the BBC. In Australia, there are thought to be well over a million in the wild, considered to be the world’s largest feral population. They are mostly the dromedary or Arabian camel, with one hump—the species chosen for milk production. Australia also has a much smaller wild population of the two humped Bactrian camel. The U.S. has many dairies producing camel milk for drinking and for health and beauty products, such as California’s Desert Farms using milk from small farms around the U.S. and Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, CA.
The first thing that strikes me with regard to camels is just how hardy they are as a species. They live in the most inhospitable of conditions so they must have a wealth of secrets to ensure that they obtain and retain all the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and resources that they need to stay alive, healthy and to feed their young. These benefits have been, and are continuing to be, explored, with camel milk seeming to be a wonder ingredient from anti-aging properties to new evidence demonstrating that consumption of camel milk improves glycemic control during diabetes mellitus.
Difficulties in Production
If you study the composition of camel milk and how it behaves, it is on paper technically impossible to turn into cheese. Regular (calf/kid) rennet and traditional methods of using rennet do not work in coagulating camel milk; you must use Camel chymosin. Some producers have worked around this by blending with other milks. However, Summerland Camels in Australia have found a way of creating pure cheese, and this is now available for purchasing in the U.S. Unfortunately, it isn’t easily made, and it seems that there is a strong link with the terroir of Summerland camels, which allows them to do what other skilled cheesemakers have not.
Jeff Flood, CEO of Summerland Camels, says it took them nine months to figure out a way to create curds and not just a sloppy mess of semi coagulated milk. He attributes this to the fact that their land is some of the most fertile in the Southern Hemisphere, full of mineral rich volcanic soil and spring water. A combination of their feed and the terroir seem to be the key to successful cheesemaking from a milk that doesn’t easily do so. Flood and Paul Martin began researching the health benefits of camel milk and farming, initially concentrating on using the whey to explore ways to alleviate symptoms of eczema and diabetes. They have over 30 years of experience in biodynamic farming techniques and land regeneration, building a resilient farm eco-system without the use of chemicals or pesticides.
There is a payoff, as camel milk is incredibly healthy. In fact, it’s its health benefits and properties that are what have made this product grow in popularity, especially over the past five years. I would definitely consider it a super food. It contains high proportions of antibacterial and antiviral substances as well as antioxidants and immune system boosters, such as B vitamins, Selenium and Vitamin C.
A lower fat content than most at around 2-3 percent, this makes it around 50 percent lower than cow’s milk. The fats in camel milk are turned into a smooth and creamy texture by naturally occurring Omega-3 beneficial fatty acids.
One of the most exciting discoveries is that the insulin-like protein in camel milk has a unique property that protects it from the digestive enzymes in the human stomach, according to camelicious.com. In turn, this makes it more absorbable and better suited for those who need to control their blood sugar.
What’s probably most notable is that camel milk is virtually ‘bio-identical’ to the colostrum in a human mother’s milk, so it is highly nutritious and easy to digest. It also contains high proportions of antibodies—proteins that fight infections and bacteria.
Camels also secrete milk in the same way as humans, so you cannot simply milk them as you would a cow to get their milk. They have to be close to and think about their offspring in order for them to give milk. Unlike humans, however, they are able to switch this off and ‘hold it in’.
There are two main active ingredients in camel milk, namely Lactoferrin and Immunoglobulins, which make it unique. Lactoferrin is a protein, which, in camel milk has been shown to include anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anti-tumour properties.
It also inhibits growth of bacteria, such as E. Coli, Clostridium and Staphylococcus Aureus. The lactoferrin in camel milk also influences the activation and development of certain immune cells.
Having a different composition to regular milks makes camel milk ideal for those suffering from lactose intolerances. Those who cannot digest dairy are either intolerant of the protein (casein) or the sugar (lactose). Camel milk does not contain A1 beta casein and lactoglobulin, making it well tolerated by those with allergies to dairy.
Taste & Texture
Preconceptions are that camel milk should have quite a strong, pungent flavor with an animal finish. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I was sceptical the first time I tasted camel milk, but it was both sweet and a little salty and very much reminded me of a British digestive biscuit or the flavor of cookies and milk all in one. The milk itself is very white and slightly frothy in texture.
Summerland Camels’ milk covers every desirable base flavor, with a complex profile. Flood explains that camel milk is regularly generalized as being quite a salty substance. However, he stressed that their product was very balanced. He also went on to explain that the diet of camels very dramatically influences the flavors found in the milk.
As far as availability in the U.S., Summerland Camels’ products are very newly distributed by World’s Best Cheese, which were at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show earlier this year. They make a few different styles including:
• Persian Feta style
• Fromage Blanc
• Halloumi style
They have experimented and been able to make harder cheeses from the milk, such as Cheddar and Gruyère styles as well as the above. Currently, the Persian Feta style is the only one to make it over to the U.S. It is a smooth, marinated cheese. The first shipment sold out at lightning speed, so it is looking to be incredibly popular throughout the country. The Persian Feta is rich, creamy and with a full mouthfeel and lactic tang. The herbs and oil in the marinade blend well and make it a perfectly-seasoned addition to recipes, such as vegetable tarts, a topping for a fresh tomato soup or antipasti.
The Fromage Blanc is smooth, creamy and slightly tart—the only one of its kind in Australia. There are many recipes both savory and sweet, which you can make with Fromage Blanc. My favorite is Cervelle de Canut, which is a mixture of Fromage Blanc and fresh herbs, shallots and seasoning that is perfect with crusty bread or fresh radishes.