The Chinese, as a nation, are not keen on dairy foods and many are uncomfortable with the very idea of cheese – so the cheese-loving inhabitants of the south-western province of Yunnan are far from typical.
The strange rock formations, sprouting out of the red-brown earth, are a sign that we are approaching the Stone Forest, one of Yunnan’s great scenic attractions.
But we are not here for the scenery.
Instead, I am on my way with my friend Bi Wei, a chef from the provincial capital, to investigate a peculiar cottage industry: the making of what local people call “ru bing” or “milk cakes”, but Westerners would call cheese.
Before long we arrive at quiet village in Lunan County, where Bi Wei’s friend Luo Wenzhi welcomes us at the gate of her farmhouse.
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Soon I am crouching on the floor of her goat shed, trying to milk a goat for the first time in my life.
Mrs Luo holds the twitching animal’s leg while I squeeze one of its bulging teats, tugging briskly downwards.
After a few failed attempts, sharp jets of milk shoot into the metal cup, which begins to fill with the warm, creamy liquid.
When I have finished, Mrs Luo swiftly milks the other nine goats, and we return to her kitchen to start making cheese.