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Making Airag (by Batsukh)

Mongolians enjoy a drink made from fermented mares' milk, which is called Airag. This is how it is made.

After the mares have foaled at the beginning of summer, they are brought into the Ger camp with their babies. They catch the foals and tie them with halters to a leather line. After this is finished the people celebrate this day with special food, milk products and candy. Little children have a running race and the first child back usually gets a reward.

When the foals get used to being tied up, they milk the mares every 2 hours. My Grandmother used to sing out to the mares when it was time for them to be milked and they would come. They let the foals drink for a minute and when the milk is flowing they milk into a bucket. Traditionally only women milk mares. During the hot summer time they bring the mares to feed the foals and milk them more often.

The milk is kept inside a large home-made leather bag hung just inside the door on the wall of the ger. Every time someone comes in or out they are expected to take a turn at stirring the milk with a long thick wooden stick which is plunged up and down in the bag. Younger children count as they do this and they learn their numbers this way.

The milk ferments overnight and the airag is drunk first thing in the morning before the family members go outside and start the day's various chores which includes the milking of cows, sheep, goats and the mares depending on which animals the family owns.

Large quantities of airag are drunk throughout the summer and it is not unusual for a person to consume 20 litres of airag a day. Milk products in their various forms and some dried meats are the main source of food for herders over the summer months.

Mongolian herders follow a nomadic way of life, so their food needs to be taken from their herds and stored to fit in with this wandering lifestyle. Almost every family has an extra small ger. During the cold winter months which is when the animals are killed for eating, they hang beef and mutton inside this extra ger which is lightly covered and in effect is a freeze drying chamber. This dried meat is compacted so is easy to carry with them as they follow the herds during the months of spring and summer when the animals wander the steppes grazing on lush pastures.

On average the nomads move 3 times, winter, spring and summer. Although during summertime if they have large herds the will move more often. They usually only move over a 30-40 kilometre area. When my mother used to travel, she would beat the dried meat with a hammer to make it soft and small so that she could carry it with them to make soup.