This is a first, and it's not something to be proud of, but I have to be honest: I didn't actually ingest this week's "I'm Eating What?!?" products.
Yes, the whole aim of this column is to chomp down on unusual things, swallow, research and report. But when something smells so gawd-awful that it makes me want to wretch -- no gig is worth that. (My friend and fellow taster, a particularly vociferous bacon-lover, even pulled the Jew card as an excuse for not trying the products, claiming they weren't kosher. Girl, puuuuhhhlleeease.)
However, we are pleased to report that one unsuspecting gentleman subjected himself to a big slug of what can only be described as one of the most foul-smelling, unappetizing-looking beverages we've ever come across: a fermented drink made with mare milk.
But first, a recap of the conversation with the cashier at a local Russian food market where we found these two bottles -- one with a camel head drawn on the label, the other with a horse head -- in a cooler.
"Excuse me, does this mean that these are made with horse and camel milk?"
"No. It's milk."
"Meaning, cow milk?"
"No. Milk from horse. Milk from camel."
We tried to psyche ourselves up with research -- perhaps the liquid emitted from these mammals' teats would, perhaps, be more enjoyable and nutritious than cows' milk! Here's what we found:
Camel milk is reported to have been a staple food of desert nomad tribes. Though it is richer in fat than cow's milk, it contains more protein and triple the amount of vitamin C. It is also said to have medicinal properties and is even considered an aphrodisiac in Ethiopia.
Horse milk, which dates back as a beverage about 5,500 years ago to the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan and was popular in Germany during the First World War, seems a bit more popular in Europe than in the States. It is low in fat and more digestible than cow's milk and fans claim it can do magical things like helping dermatitis and eczema sufferers who either drink it or rub it into their skin. Supposedly even Cleopatra bathed in ass's milk to keep her skin young and beautiful.
Had we read the label first, we would have seen the ingredients: dried milk, cultured milk ferment, pure water and salt. And when we opened the bottle, there was no denying that some serious culturing and fermenting had gone down. To say these each smelled like a rancid dairy would be a gross understatement. And we do mean gross. We even checked the expiration date and found that it was still considered good for another two weeks.
Our unsuspecting male friend, probably attempting to pull off a cooler-than-thou posture, poured some into a glass, quickly confirmed that it looked like cow's milk, and threw it back. Then he promptly ran toward the sink and spat white liquid everywhere.