By Vladimir Voronin
SUSAMIR, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — High in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan Mountains, the season for making the fermented drink known as kumis is in full swing.
Connoisseurs of kumis, an important part of the diet of nomadic tribes for centuries, say the Susamir Valley is home to the best version of the drink.
In winter, the valley, 2,500 meters (8,200 ft) above sea level, is covered with meter-deep snow. When it melts, a lot of water eats dense grasses and herbs. By late summer, the valley is carpeted with a thick, emerald carpet of succulent blades of grass, which the horses eagerly eat.
Grasses and herbs give a distinctive taste to the milk that the local people draw from the mares that graze the fields. The milk is then left to ferment, or sometimes churned to increase fermentation, until it becomes a light alcohol.
Cow’s milk can also be used, but is considered inferior. Mares’ milk has a high sugar content, making it more amenable to fermentation.
Rustam Tukhvatshin, professor of Kyrgyz medicine, says kumis promotes blood cell growth and detoxifies the body, among other benefits. He says he never fails to visit Susamir when kumis production is at its peak.
Tourists and people from other parts of Kyrgyzstan are also taking notice of the region’s kumis. Large timber-framed tents known as yurts line the roadside with tables where kumis are sold. With enough time, the buyer can relax in the yurts while sipping on highly regarded drinks.