If we are used to seeing most dairy products in a soft and rather liquid form, qurt is different. Specific to Central Asia, commonly found in countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, qurt is a solid product, served in the form of compact balls. Made out of dried and fermented milk, these balls can be served as they are or the composition can be improved with various spices and herbs. The base of qurt is suzma, which is another dairy product specific to this area of the world, presented in the lines below. The dried milk is formed in the shape of balls and left to dry in the open air for as long as 3 to 5 days. This drains all the water from the product, making it better preserved for a long time storing. Even if it is very hot outside, there is no need to store qurt in the fridge because it will preserve its shape, taste, and properties extremely well, due to the drying process. These dry milk balls can be served as an appetizer, snack, or even as a side dish for various recipes.
Qurt appeared in the nomadic tribes of Central Asia, which had the milk of their livestock as a primary food source, as their animals were accompanying them wherever they were going. Also, the preparation method of the qurt allowed them to store this product for long periods, always having something filling and delicious to quench their hunger. The source of the milk is not that important, as any kind of milk can be used for the making of qurt. Cow, goat, sheep, and even camel milk can be used for this recipe. The main idea behind making qurt is that whole and fresh milk should be used, and not pasteurized milk. The fresh milk is left to get sour until the masses in the milk get separated. At this point, the liquid is separated from the curd, which is left to drain for hours in a row. Once the curd is drained sufficiently, it is mixed with salt, or with peppers, spices, or herbs, and it is shaped in small balls, chucks, or rolls, by hand. In some parts, these cheese bits are boiled before putting them outside to dry, so that any harmful bacteria is killed during the boiling process, although this part is not mandatory, especially if the sun outside is hot enough.
In the summer, temperatures in the southern part of Kazakhstan, for example, can exceed 40 degrees Celsius, which is very hot. It is enough to leave the qurt balls outside for a few days in the scorching sun and they will dry very fast. The resulted balls are extremely nutritious, delicious, and easy to store, the nomads calling qurt the “essence of milk”, meaning that it is the best you can get out of milk. Stored in canvas bags, qurt can be enjoyed for a very long time since its preparation. Some even say that it only gets better with the passing of time.