Ayran is the elixir of strength and health

A festival dedicated to a wonderful local diary product, ayran, was held this year on the 28th of September at the famous Honey Falls in Karachay-Cherkess Republic. It is not the first year the festival, which seems to gradually acquire an international status, was held in Karachay-Cherkessia. Last year's ayran festival was such an amazing and impressive event, it spread beyond the territory of its land of origin: not only to the neighbor regions of Russia, but also to the countries of near and far abroad.
Delegations of Karachay and Balkar diasporas from Kabardino-Balkaria, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Stavropol region, and also from Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, USA and the Netherlands have arrived to this history and folklore, ethnographic event. Attracted by their keen interest in their roots and national history, their love for the national art and folklore, the guests were delighted with what they saw at the festival. Despite the bad weather, the administration of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, the residents and the municipal authorities of the Malokarachay district, creative professionals and the direction of
the "Honey Falls" travel agency managed to conduct a festival of a high international level. Before describing in detail the festive atmosphere of the event, let us say a few words about the history of the hero of the occasion, — the wonderful healing ayran.
BEING the ancient inhabitants of the North Caucasus, the people in whose ethnogeny both the ancient indigenous Caucasian population and the Turkic-speaking alans took part, the Karachay people were famous for their horse-breeding and stock-raising skills from ancient times, being able to create their own breeds of horses, sheep, goats, hens, dogs... The indispensable attribute of the herding culture — meat and dairy products — allowed to create the original Karachay cuisine. In it, the ayran holds a very important place, according to the numerous literary sources, the first of which were created in the early modern period by the famous German ethnographer and orientalist in the Russian diplomatic service, Julius Heinrich Klaproth, who for the first time told the world about the Karachay people, the creators of ayran, in the 1808. In the pre-revolutionary years, a hundred years later in 1908, a Karachay landlord Bekmurza Baichorov gave the recipe for industrial production of ayran and gypy (gapy, the kefir ayran) to an employee of the Botkin Hospital Irina Sakharova, which the press of that time presented as a romantic story: "in exchange for love", the gypy ferment was given to her as a sign of special favor. There are many publications about this story thanks to a Karachay ethnographer Ibragim Shamanov.

In Medija Shamanova's book"Roots Hold the Tree" (p. 197"Unforgettable meetings") it is described how Magomet Abdurzakovich Botashev, a prominent social and political figure, and the chairperson of the Karachay-Cherkessia's Executive Committee at the time, was handing the ayran recipe to the President of Finland Urho Kaleva Kekkonen:

"... On the second day of the guests' stay in Dombay before dinner, Alexey Nikolaevich and Kekkonen were standing in front of the rapidly flowing river Buu Elgen and talking about something. I came to them to invite them to the table. Alexey Nikolaevich pointed at the flasks lying in the glacial water and asked,"the president and me are looking at these flasks and wondering — what is in there?" I answered,"Probably ayran. It won't begin fermenting in the cold glacial water. It will keep its original taste". Immidiately Kekkonen asked,"What is ayran?"—"Oh, it's the heroes' drink,— I answered with a special sense of pride. — Well, you will be able to try it at dinner". Kekkonen really liked the ayran and asked to describe the technology of its preparation after dinner. I said that the technology was very simple, but to prepare the real ayran you need the special leaven made of the same ayran,"Can arrange that for you".
Alexey Nikolaevich, standing near Kekkonen, joked: "Magomet Abdurzakovich, don't just give away the technology. Let them allot you a percentage from every pint of ayran they make. The capitalists are rich. And you could use the money."
That is how the recipe of the ancient Karachay dairy drink got to the distant Finland. In acknowledgement, Urho Kekkonen soon sent me silver cufflinks with golden plates in the form of a mountain ridge with the name and the date of crossing one of the passes of Caucasian ridges.
The nephew of Alexey Nikolaevich arrived with him. In the evening, when we were treated to a shashlik near the campfire, the prime minister's nephew asked, turning to Kosygin, if he liked the shashlik. Alexey Nikolaevich nodded affirmatively. Then the nephew noted that, by the way, it was the meat of a karachay lamb, and that this breed was already being raised near Paris. The shashlik of a karachay lamb was considered a delicacy in the French restaurants. He added sadly that the breed would soon become extinct in the USSR..."
But this is another story about the shashlik made from the famous breed of the karachay black fat-tail sheep...
Urho Kaleva Kekkonen who comes from a countrymen family, even in his more than 26 years of presidency, continued being the head of the Agricultural Union of Finland and had his own farm with a production of meat and dairy products. We can guess that the modern fermented milk and yoghurt industry has started in the contemporary history in Northern Europe with M. A. Botashev giving the leaven to the President of the friendly capitalist Finland. The presidency of Urho Kekkonen coincided with the signing of the famous Helsinki Accords, which led the world to the relaxation of international tensions and to the first disarmament agreements about the most deadly types of nuclear weapons. It was just before these events that  the Finnish President had stayed in Karachay-Cherkessia, at the famous resorts Dombay and Arkhyz with his friend Alexey Nikolaevich Kosygin, Prime minister of the USSR, who in turn loved Caucasus very much and used any opportunity to visit Karachay-Cherkessia. That is one more story of the ayran-juurt. Nowadays ayran, kefir and yoghurt produce undergoes a true revival and is being made in all regions of Russia, the near and far abroad. But, as the researchers note, the most delicious ayran still is made in the birthplace of ayran and kefir — in Karachay-Cherkessia,from the milk of the cows that pasture among the variety of the herbs of the alpine pastures in the foothills of Elbrus, on the two sides of which live the two consanguineous nations — Karachays and Balkars.

"The ayran festival at the Honey Falls" in Karachay-Cherkessia has united the representatives of more than 30 nations of the world.
The 2nd International Festival "The Honey Falls Ayran Festival" gathered several thousands of people from various parts of Russia and other countries representing more than 30 nations. Among the honorary guests of the festival were the members of the Karachay-Cherkessia Ministry: Minister of Agriculture Akhmat Semenov, Minister of Tourism and Resorts Marat Khubiev, Deputy Minister for Nationalities, Mass Communication and Press Islam Khubiev, the heads of municipalities and districts of KCHR, official delegations and representatives of Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, the USA and Turkey. The festival was attended by the tourists and guests of the republic vacationing at the local resorts, Dombay, Teberda and Arkhyz. About 5000 people attended the festival on the first day.

The celebration began with the common Caucasian custom of greeting the guests with bread and ayran to the accompaniment of the national accordion and the ardent lezginka (traditional dance). The guests were met with the greetings from the representatives of the Karachay-Cherkess public organization "Karachay alan halk"and the elders.

In the official part of the festival Minister of Agriculture Akhmat Semenov greeted the attendees on behalf of the head of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic Rashid Temrezov. He read out the testimonial of the head, in which he noted the importance of the International Festival for preserving the national identity of the Karachay and Balkar people living in various parts of the world:

"This unique ethno-cultural forum contributes to the preservation and development of the rich original culture of Karachays and Balkars, to the closer interaction between the representatives of these nations living far from their historical motherland, be it in the regions of Russia or in foreign countries.

Every nation is unique for its customs and traditions, language and literature, centuries-old spiritual heritage. With those, every nation enriches the world culture, contributing to its further development, promoting the ideas of peace, civil accord and the prosperity of human civilization.

With the growing globalization and integration it is very important to preserve not only the linguistic riches of the small nations and their original culture, but to create conditions for their growth. "The Honey Falls Ayran Festival", without doubt, promotes this noble purpose. It is worth noting that Ayran is a wonderful healing drink, popular among people all over the world and is especially honored among the nations of the North Caucasus.

In addition, in the testimonial Rashid Temrezov expressed his confidence that the rich program of the forum would create new possibilities for preservation and further successful development of the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Karachay and Balkar nations.

"Let all the people of the world develop and prosper themselves, giving each other the joy of communication and mutual cultural enrichment!" — the head of the Republic said in his message addressing the festival attendees.

Minister of Agriculture presented the author of the project with the prize instituted by the head of the Republic Rashid Temrezov.

The head of the Malokarachaevskiy municipal district Ramazan Bairamukov was the next to address the guests of the festival with a testimonial. He expressed his gratitude to the administration of the republic and the organizers of the ethno-cultural forum.

Minister of Tourism and Resorts of KCHR Marat Khubiev noted in his speech that Karachay-Cherkessia had great tourist and recreational potential and that the touristic complex"Hon-ey Falls", where the festival was being held for the third time, was one of the most visited and favorite places of the guests of the Republic. Marat Khubiev furthermore emphasized that the other day, in the framework of the International Investment forum in Sochi the presidential plenipotentiary to the North Caucasian Federal District Alexandr Khloponin had given a commission to open the Arkhyz resort by the skiing season of 2013-2014.

"The subject of tourism and its development in Karachay-Cherkessia is one of the priority ones the government of the region",— emphasized Marat Khubiev and presented the initiator of the project Mussa Botashev with a certificate of appreciation for his contribution to the development of the republic's tourist attractiveness.

Magomed Sanglibaev, the head of the Noghai district, spoke on behalf of the heads of the municipalities and districts. He accentuated the friendship of the peoples of Caucasus, among which ayran was so popular. Moreover, Magomed Sanglibaev informed the attendees that the heads of municipalities and districts of the KCHR had instituted a prize for the competition participants.

Ruslan Khabov, the first deputy chairman of the National Assembly (Parliament) of KCHR and the head ofthe Karachay-Cherkess public organization "Karachay alan halk" addressed the present guests, too. In his speech, Khabov stressed the importance of the "Honey Falls Ayran Festival" for uniting nations and promoting friendship between them.

Mussa Botashev, the initiator of the project and the director of the touristic complex "Honey Falls" greeted the participants and guests in his address. He thanked the administration of Karachay-Cherkessia in the person of the head of the republic Rashid Temrezov for the provided support, and all the attendees for their interest in the festival.

Guests from abroad spoke at the festival, too: the president of the"lnternational Karachay association "Ata Jurt", LLC, the chairman of the board of the"Kyrgyzstan People's Assembly" Association, the academician of the National academy of sciences of Kyrgyzstan Zukhra Shidakova, the director of the official Turkish delegation Fevzi Tezdjan and others.

The People's poet of KCHR Dina Mamchueva read poetry about the traditional healing Karachay and Balkar drink, and presented the author of the project with her new book "The InnermostWord"

The festive atmosphere of the event was supported by the bright performances of the artists of the North Caucasus. Students of SGGTA's faculty of design and applied arts led by Larisa Ataeva also presented their creative works. Collections of fashion products created in the national styles by the designers Khalimat Tebueva, Khanifa Dzazaeva and Almira Ataeva were presented.

After the official part of the forum the guests were invited to the 400-liter bowl of ayran that had been prepared by the employees of the "Honey Falls" touristic complex by the ancient national recipe. All comers had a possibility to taste the invigorating drink. Moreover, the organizers have prepared a 50-kg head of cheese, also as a treat for the festival guests.
Exhibitions and competitions were held in the framework of the "Honey Falls Ayran Festival", in which teams from Malokarachaevsky, Prikubansky and Ust'-Djegutinsky municipal districts of KCHR took part, as well as guests from KBR, representing the Elbrussky and Chereksky districts, and the KBGU Balkar cultural center in Nalchik. In particular: the trade exhibition of the works of the traditional Karachay-Balkar arts and crafts masters, "The Craftsmen Lane"; the fashion show "Karachay-Balkar wedding dress: tradition and modernity"; also the culinary competitions: "All the tastes of Karachay and Balkaria — in a drop of milk", the dishes of the Karachay-Balkar traditional cuisine, where about 15 sorts of cheese and ayran were presented. Together with the jury, the guests of the culinary contests tasted the dishes of the traditional karachay and balkar cuisine entered into the competition.

All the winners and awardees of the competitions received memorable gifts and prizes. Participants of the Prikubansky district of KCHR have won in the team placing, the Malokarachaevsky districs team took the second place, the Elbrussky district team (KBR) — the third.

During the entire event a trade exhibition with souvenirs, historical and local lore literature was held.

According to the organizers, the fact that the festival gathered several thousands of people representing about 30 nationalities of the world is the evidence of the keen interest in the traditional drink of the peoples of Caucasus.

The spectacular events of the festival have attracted attention of the regional, Russian and Kyrgyzstan mass media.

The festival continued in the Uchkeken village, where the dressage tests competition of the horses of the karachay breed and trick riding took place, as well as the exhibition of the karachay breed of sheep and the exhibition of the Caucasian breed of dogs (samyr). The winners of competitions got prizes, and the audience — unforgettable memories.

It should be noted that the festival was aimed to the presentation of the Karachay-Balkar ethno-culture, the preservation and development of the traditional culture of the nationalities living in the region; the actualization of the ethno-cultural potential and the national artistic traditions, to create the touristic brand of the KCHR and to develop international cultural and business cooperation.


The use and processing of dairy products in Karachay are directly related to the cattle-breeding. A dairy farm (ak djiyuu) was a favorite and necessary occupation of Karachays since ancient times, and the use of various types of dairy products was the main part of the nation's food regimen. "The main food of the Karachays on kosh (mountain camp) is milk in all its forms: unfermented, sour, raw milk, prepared with fungi called kefir, cultivated only by them, and sour-baked milk called ayran, then cheese and butter", — wrote the dairy farming specialist A. A. Kyrsh, whose name is associated with the first cheese-making factories in the North Caucasus.

"The herdsmen often don't eat anything but milk, butter, cream, cheese and ayran for months on end, and are feeling very well",— noted a traveler who visited Karachay at the beginning of the XXth century. The same was mentioned by the explorers I. Ivanyukov and M. Kovalevsky about the highlanders of Balkaria.The ataman of the Batalpashinsky division in his report in 1904 attested that the mountaineer herdsmen "live on sour milk and meat almost the entire year".

Having kept in general several methods of making dairy produce characteristic for many Turkic nations occupied in the cattle-breeding from of old, the Karachays widely used milk and dairy products for food. The names of milk and dairy products are common for the Turkic-speaking nations and are mentioned in the ancient Turkic texts.

Cow milk (iynek syut) was the most widespread one in the Karachays' farming, then the sheep milk (koy syut) and goat milk (echki syut). Special preference was given to the buffalo milk (gammesh syut). But the Karachays drank raw milk very rarely. After corresponding treatments, one could get a diversity of products out of milk. To avoid the milk going sour, it was boiled right after milking, and after a short settling turned it into ayran — the main milk product. There are many testimonies to that. Thus, veterinarian Kara-Visil'ev wrote in his notes: "Many families live on ayran only".

The ayran drink, widespread in Europe and Asia and developed by the Karachay herdsmen on the rich alpine meadows, is exceptionally nutritious and has healing qualities.

Emphasizing the high nutritious qualities of ayran, doctor G. Demyanov wrote:"The Karachays owe their longevity both to the healing mountain air and to the healing qualities of ayran". "Ayran and kefir are the nectar of every true Karachay, a drink truly delicious",— noted A. A. Kyrsh.

Karachays, as many otherTurkic nations, make ayran from boiled whole or skimmed cow, sheep, goat or buffalo milk. For that, the boiled milk is cooled to the fresh milk temperature, and after for one bucket of milk one spoon of ayran of the previous making is taken and mixed thoroughly. Since the leaven works much better in warmth, the caldron in which the milk is being fermented is wrapped up warmly. After 10-12 hours the milk goes sour, forming a thick gelatinous product, called "juurt".
The so called sweet ayran (tatly), the main food of the Karachays, is made by mixing juurt thoroughly. As such, it is very delicious and nutritious. It is served with the "gyrdzyn"cakes.

In the summertime, ayran is used widely as a refreshing drink, to slake one's thirst; in this case it is diluted with raw water and called "susab"or "jukha ayran". According to a superstition, people shouldn't drink water while at sheep-fold (yrys). Otherwise, the elders were saying, "You're destroying the well-being of the kosh!"

In the process of ayran (juurt) fermentation, sour milk (kyuchlu ayran) is made. It was noticed that a strong fermentation was observed under room temperature and in bad weather.

The "juurt" dairy product is known in many countries of Europe (Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary) and especially among the Turkic nations of Asia. The ancient Turks were the first ones to spread it.The Karachays could also become acquainted with ayran in ancient times via their ancestors, the Turks. Due to the fact that sheep milk is very fat, the recipe for making ayran out of it differs in that before boiling, the milk is diluted with water in the proportions: a bucket of water per two buckets of milk.

Stocks of salt ayran (tuzluk) for the winter were made out of the ayran prepared in the autumn. For that, ayran was gathered for several days and then sterilized by heating it and the removing the serum (khuppegi). After that, the obtained milk mass was salted in wooden tubs (tuzluk dzykkyr),"using a quarter pound of salt per bucket". During the entire winter tuzluk was the main dairy product, used with cakes and also as a seasoning to different dishes. Tuzluk, salted with a small amount of fresh ayran, was poured over the mutton intended for shashlik.

The making of kefir (gypy), which has been a wonderful drink and the food of Karachays from of old, is a very interesting process, too. There are many literary sources that name the Elbrus vicinity, in particular, Karachay, as the birthplace of kefir. The ethnographer E. D. Felizin noted in the 80's of the 19th century:"that kefir is most widespread, especially among Karachays". G. F. Chursin called kefir the national food of Karachays.

"It should not be forgotten",— A. Tarasov wrote in the 20's of the last century, — "that Karachay is considered to be the birthplace of kefir, the kefir milk. This is the only place where one can buy the kefir fungi in the dried form, looking like buckshot ("kapir"in the Karachay language)."

The question of the origin of the kefir fungi is still open. Not being able to explain the origin of the kefir seeds, the researchers turned with their questions to Karachays many times. But in the majority of cases they got the same answer: they are making kefir from the kefir seeds (gypy urluk) from time immemorial, but where those seeds came from — nobody knows.

Some of the attempts to give explanation are somewhat naive (about the transformation of the cheese pieces grown in the fresh milk, about how the bits of kefir seeds were found growing on some shrubberies high in the mountains, right under the snow line, etc.).

In our opinion, there is maybe one legend that deserves some attention: the legend of origination of the seeds in a leather vessel — a wineskin, if only because the word kefir, "gypy" should be explained as the derivative from the word "gybyt", wineskin.

It was exactly under that name,"the wineskin kefir" that the Caucasian kefir was spread in the second half of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th centuries.

It is interesting to cite the statement of the researcher of kefir fungi Dr. Dmitrov about kefir fungus being a kumis leaven, altered in a wineskin. He came to that his conclusion of kefir seeds having their origins in a wineskin as a result of mare's milk leavening with kefir seeds and getting good kumis.

Prof. E. E. Kern considered the word kefir a derivative from the Turkic word "kef", which means "foam", and "kefli"—"cheerful, pepfu I", therefore "kefir" — "invigorative, exhilarant". As a result of the microscopic analysis of the kefir fungus, Kern was able to discover a new, previously unknown to science, motile lactic acid bacteria, which he called Dispora Caukasiza. or Gyuppe in the Karachay language.

The scientific community discovered kefir relatively recently. It was found in the dairy wineskins of Karachays tending their herds in the Kislovodsk neighborhood. Dr Jogin made a short report on it to the Caucasian Medicine society in 1867. Dr Jogin's discovery attracted the interest of the scientific community not only in Russia, but also abroad.

"Kefir,— E.E.Kern wrote,— "is not only common drink for the mountaineers, it is also recognized as a healing remedy among them. According to the highlanders, the healing powers of kefir are effective against anemia, scrofula, the gastrointestinal diseases, and also the exhausting suffering of the respiratory organs, even the pulmonary consumption". The researcher notes further, "The fame of the kefir's healing power began spreading beyond auls little by little; now they know about kefir in many cities of the Caucasus (in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol, Vladikavkaz,Tiflis), and in the later years, the doctors of the Caucasian mineral waters group turned their attention to the healing powers of kefir". The first experiments on treating patients with kefir, conducted by doctor P. M. Borisov at the Essentuki resorts in the end of the 70's of the XIX century, were not without success.

The first kefir shop was opened in Tiflis in 1884 and in Moscow in 1904. Thus, the first kefir exported from Karachay in the second half of the XIX century gained wide popularity and a good reputation far from the Caucasus. But, as N.P.Tulchinski noted in his time, most of all kefir was being used in Karachay. As the research of the Karachay kefir conducted in the 20's of the past century showed, being taken from its ancestral environment— highland regions of the North Caucasus,— the kefir organism degenerated, lost its power and healing properties.

Among Karachays, kefir was made as follows: fresh cow milk was poured in a leather wineskin (goat or sheep milk was considered a better option), and a handful of kefir fungi was added for fermenting. After that the wineskin was shaked up thoroughly and put in a cool place.

The fresh milk serves as a good nutrient medium for the kefir fungi, so they begin to "live and reproduce", and after several hours the drink is considered ready for consumption.

As the kefir was poured out from the wineskin for consumption, it was refilled with fresh milk again. But after two days the kefir was subjected to the a strong fermentation, so it was poured out from the wineskin into a wooden tub, and the kefir nubbins were washed with water and dried for the next fermentation. The kefir nubbins called "urluk"(seeds) have spherical or elliptic shapes, the sizes of which vary from 2 to 5 mm. Experiments showed that the milk temperature wass very important in making kefir. The optimal temperature is to be 12-15 degrees Celsius. Under higher temperatures the milk goes sour too fast, and casein settles in the form of large flakes.

The cattle-breeding life was also related directly to the production of another type of ayran, called "bulgama", or "ailandyrgan", of which there were almost no mentions in the ethnographic literature. It stopped being used in the 70's of the XIX century. The production and consumption of the "bulgama", or, literally,"the rotated one", was due to the necessity of providing the herdsmen with the dairy foods during the drove in spring and autumn. It was made out of sheep's milk only with a special leaven. Fresh milk was tepefied in copper cauldrons, then poured into a wooden vessel and mixed thoroughly with a wooden spatula for several hours. The resulting thick foamy mass was left to rest for a lengthy period of time. The settled mass became so thick that it had to be cut in pieces for consumption. Unfortunately, the reasons of this product's disappearance from the Karachay cuisine were left unknown.

There were also several methods of making cream in Karachay. To get sweet cream (chiy syutbash) the milk was settled in flat wooden bowls (chara) or copper pots, the top layer was removed with a special spoon called "syutbashi aulauchu".

The baked milk was skimmed, the skin (kaymak) had a stiffer consistency than that of the cream, and was preserved for a long time.To make kaymak, the milk is boiled for a long time and then left on a small fire, removing the thick upper level as it forms and drying it.The dried kaymak was suitable for stocking for winter, and it was eaten in kosh when the cows didn't give any milk. A part of the produce was sent to the villages. By putting it in wooden tubs and filling them with honey,"bal kaymak"was produced, which was a delicacy of every feast.

Another way to make kaymak was to boil the milk until dry, getting a yellow mass that was dried after. Butter was made out of cream, sour cream and "hameshi"—the skin of a fresh ayran that merged during fermenting. Fresh butter (jangy jau) was made for immediate use. A significant portion of the butter was turned into melted butter (kaynagan jau). The butter was churned with a special spatula in big wooden bowls (chara) and also in wineskins and long churns (syutbashi jykkyr) gouged out of tree trunks. Barrel churns made of wood began to appear in the Karachay villages in the end of the XlXth century. They are still used today. The wineskin method of making butter should be considered the most ancient, original one. Butter churning required considerable time and effort, that was why the wineskin was tied to the ceiling and set in motion. Sometimes, though, the herdsmen churned butter without tying the wineskin to the ceiling, right on the floor.

Cheeses were generally made out of whole or skimmed cow milk. The most high-quality cheese (koy byshlak) and highly nourishing bryndza (koy syuzme) were made from sheep milk. Curds (suzgen byshlak) were produced from ayran.

The process of cheese making by Karachays has a lot in common with neighboring Caucasian nations. It consisted of the following stages: the fresh milk was strained through a filter (gadura) made of a wisp of straw or grass, then heated in copper cauldrons to the temperature of 40-45 degrees Celsius and soured with liquid rennet (maya suu). The maw of a six or seven day's old lamb or a goatling, less frequently of a calf was used as the leaven. For that the maw was salted, kept in ayran and dried. As required, the necessary amount of infusion was prepared out of the maw by sluicing it with serum. 2-3 spoons of leaven were used for a bucket of milk. Copper cauldrons were used as vessels for milk fermentation. The curd was stirred up thoroughly, after some time, the sediment was gathered, the serum outpressed, and put in a form made of withy or canvas, then laid down on a special cheese table (byshlak tabha), where it was pressed. For long conservation people salted the cheese was salted and put to wooden kits with brine serum.The smoked cheese (gybyt byshlak) was conserved in a wineskin. Another sort of cheese was made in the following way: the curd was put in a wineskin and then pressed in it until it was ripe. In case of necessity it was taken out of the wineskin by piecemeal. The mountain pastures of Karachay with their alpine flora were contributing to getting the high-quality livestock produce. Many scientists' statements confirm that. The "Cossak troops herald" newspaper noted that "the cheese, butter, milk, ayran and meat are of high quality and amazingly nutritious". "The Karachay cheeses remind of the genuine Swiss ones with their flavor, sweetness and piquancy", another newspaper wrote. It was no accident that the first cheese making factories of North Caucasus were  opened in the highlands of the Kuban region. The dairy farming specialist A. A. Kirsh "with the assistance of private capitalists and the local authorities opened first one, and then two more creameries" in Borgustan in 1880, and in Dzeguta and Kuvisnk in 1881, then in 1883 in the Peredovaya village. According to specialists, the rich Caucasian nature favorably affected the taste of the Swiss and Dutch cheeses made in local factories, that "obtained the citizenship rights at the markets abroad". The St.Petersburg farmers' Assembly awarded A. A. Kirsh and his factory the big silver medal of the all-Russain exhibition for the presented samples of his Dzeguta cheese. Karachay was a major supplier of butter and cheese to the markets of the neighbor cities and villages. According to the Abramov's committee 6600 poods of butter to the amount of 66 thousand rubles were exported from Karachay every year. This fact points that dairy products are important food in life of Karachay population. Therefore, the review of the dairy farming in Karachay attests to it being traditional fot the local population, and also allows to speak about the high level of the livestock produce. It should also be emphasized that on this example of dairy farming, the cultural commonalties of the Karachays and other stock-raising nations of Caucasus, as well as their genetic connection with the ancient Turkic peoples clearly stand out.


The truth is as follows

(Ibraghim Shamanov, history professor, ethnographer)

In 1971 I visited my relative Baychorov Bekmyrza Gutchaevich in his house in the Rimgorka village of the Malokarachaevsky district of Karachay-Cherkessia. I took his photo from them and went to Moscow, to Irina Tikhonovna Saharova. Sakharova upon seeing his photo exclaimed: "That is him, he was so nice". I remember it as if it were yesterday. After that the newspaper hoax "Ossetian prince Bekmyrza" got the true attribute of Bekmyrza as Karachay. This historical intrigue, which I described in the mass media of that time, induced the Balkar writer Eldar Gurtuev to write an art essay "The traveler who had come from afar". But even though a lot of years have passed since that time, the canard of "Ossetia, the birthplace of kefir" still appears in journals and newspapers from time to time. The "Karachay" newspaper reprinted the art essay to clear that up. I suppose it should have been printed in a Russian-language newspaper too, apart from the Karachay-Balkar one. The other reason for revisiting this topic is that nobody usually distinguishes between simple ayran and gypy ayran, even though everybody stresses the fact that their leavens —"the special fungi"— are different, and only the mountaineers have them. Some people, repeating somebody's versions of ayran and kefir's origins, were asking "who created ayran, who created gypy?" (or, "who exactly created them?") — that way confusing themselves and the not well-informed public, creating many new questions.
I'm not an organic chemist, neither a biologist, not a practicing experimenter, but I want to answer those questions as an ethnographer.

The gypy ayran (kefir) is made from not boiled warm (at the milked temperature) cow, sheep or goat (preferably) milk and fermented, adding the gypy seeds into the milk while the simple ayran is made from boiled milk, letting it cool to the "when the human finger won't be burned" temperature, adding several drops of ayran as the leaven afterwards. As the leavens of the gypy ayran ("erdauluklary" in the Balkar language) and the simple ayran are different, in the same manner they are different as the end product and as the producing technology. If unboiled milk is used to make the simple ayran, it turns into "hylja ayran" (the badly fermented ayran, clabber), the Balkar call it "mystyndau"(the sour, not ripe ayran). Depending on the quality and grade of quality of milk, the quantity of leaven added, on whether the leaven was from old or fresh ayran, the ayran turns out "kuchlu" (tart, strong and sour) or "tatly" (sweet). Therefore the ayran made prepared in Karachay is the Karachay ayran, prepared the one made in Balkaria — the Balkar ayran. The one made at the kosh (mountain camp) is called "kosh ayran", and the ayran made in different places and circumstances has its differences, which can be felt when tasting it. Even the ayran made in the same family, but by different members of it, has different taste. Here every person has his or her own technology, which is always with him, as are his or her taste preferences.

I remember my father telling me about one of his father's brothers, whose name was Duda, "Duda, our grandfather, went completely blind with age, but when he was given suusab ayran (weak ayran diluted with spring water to slake thirst), he could accurately tell from which kosh's ayran that suusab was made". Fresh fermented simple ayran is called "juurt ayran".The today's word "yoghurt" is the distorted variation of that "juurt" name.

Furthermore, in ayran (in its yoghurt or stirred up state) like in gypy ayran, you will not find any "wiggling organisms", as in boiled milk these bacteria die during hot pasteurization. While in Karachay and Balkaria the growing environment of the bacteria drinks is milk, for the Japanesee-Tibetan fungi the tea drinks are this environment. As microbiologists emphasize, the vitality of the gypy or kefir fungi depends on the mountain air or the climate of the plains, in other words, on the particular habitat. Eduard Kern in 1881 has determined that the optimal climate place for the kefir fungus development is the height of Batalpashinsk, today's Cherkessk, level. He stressed that under lower that level, the vitality and development of the fungi changed significantly. In the same manner, the ayran soured in a kosh (it was done in wineskins in the old times) and the one soured in another type of crockery differ by their taste. Also, the best ayran is made from cow, sheep and goat milk, or sheep and goat milk combined, while such a method of milk mixture didn't exist for making the gypy ayran. The dairy products made from milk— ayran and gypy (kefir), as scientists unanimously state, differ as much as their names are different. The "simple ayran" was known by the Turkic-Mongolian civilization nations from of old, and is well-known till this day, while gypy ayran (the kefir ayran) is a rare dairy product of the Karachay and Balkar peoples living for centuries at the foot of Elbrus (Mingi Tau). That is exactly why today we must preserve, without mixing, the endemicity of the gypy (kefir) seeds, keeping its marketing accordingly true. If we leave out the fairy tale interpretations, the word "gypy, kypy" is connected to the words "gybyt" (wineskin) and "gyby" (spider), and that is because the microorganisms of the gypy (kefir) ayran are the unicellular microorganisms, originating and developing in the wineskin's mouth, which is tied with a rawhide strap, only in places that get wet and sour. When they get into warm milk, they begin to develop, fission and multiply into colonies. They continue multiplying until they process all the milk. When the milk resource is used up, the fission and colony growth stop, the ayran mass is filtered with a skimmer, the gypy (kefir) seeds are taken aside, then the filtered mass is washed out, separated from casein and put in shaded place, away from direct sunlight, to dry. The dried gypy (kefir) seeds look like peeled rice grains. And before the drying, they look like tiny spiders. That is why the word gyby is based on the words gybyt (wineskin) and gyby (spider).The dried seeds keep their properties as living microorganisms for several years. As an example: these gypy (kefir) seeds, having been kept in some Karachay families, survived the years of deportation, and were revived after repatriation. I don't know if, and I also haven't heard, if the Karachay and the Balkar used the gypy (kefir) seeds in Middle asia and Kazakhstan during the deportation years. But as they've preserved their ethnical identity, the highlanders managed to preserve their rare endemic product during the years of exile. Besides, it is obvious that the word «gypy (kypy)» preserved in the languages off the mountaineer Karachays and Balkars was transformed into «kefir». In addition to that, Mongols, for example, make vodka from kefir till this day. The Karachays and Balkars don't use the phrase «ayran vodka». But, having noticed the presence of alcohol in the gypy (kefir) ayran (as opposed to the simple ayran), the people named it «kefli drink» (the rush drink), «men's white wine».

Now moving on to the story of the romantic meeting of Baychorov Bekmyrza and Saharova Irina, it should be emphasized for the sake of honesty, that the legend of Bekmyrza and Irina revealing the secret of gypy ayran (kefir) to the whole of Russia and Europe and even the world is only that — a beautiful legend, which, of course, had its grounds. Sometimes we are inclined to pass the desirable for the truth. Let us go back and repeat again, the ethnographical evidence shows that the actual truth is as follows: the word gypy (kefir) was first mentioned in a story on Karachays published in 1807 byY. G. Klaproth, followed by Dr Jogin's (in 1866) and Dr Sipovich's (in 1867) reports at the Caucasian Medical society. This is where the advertising of gypy (kefir) begins. A lot of attention was brought to gypy (kefir) in the German medical community, after that the healing properties of gypy (kefir) were appreciated by the Swiss, French and Russian doctors. Apart from articles, books and theses were written about the drink. At the turn of the XlXth century several books on ayran — kefir went through 5-6 editions.

The head of the Batalpasinsky district Fedor Kuzov- lev delivered the Karachay gypy (kefir) to the Tiflis exhibition of 1881. A kefir establishment "Corona" was opened in Tiflis in 1884. And Bekmyrza and Irina met only in 1908.03

(Translated from Karachay language by N.-M.O. Laypanov)

Н-М.О. Лайпанов

By N.-M.O. Laypanov


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