What Is The Most Expensive Cheese In The World?

The Most Expensive Cheese That’s Made With Serbian Donkey Milk

What Is The Most Expensive Cheese In The World?
Photo by Zoe Schaeffer / Unsplash

Lovers of cheese are well-acquainted with varieties derived from cow, sheep, and goat milk. However, a lesser-known delicacy originates from donkey milk: The Serbian Pule cheese. Often referred to as "magareći sir" or just "pule”, this cheese is priced at an astonishing $600 per pound. For those who seek a gourmet experience, it can be beautifully paired and enjoyed with charcuterie, elevating the flavors of both the cheese and the cured meats.

What is Pule Cheese?

Pule cheese is a white, crumbly dairy product made from the milk of Balkan donkeys from the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve in Serbia. It is one of the most expensive cheeses in the world, due to the labor-intensive production process and the large amount of milk required to produce even a small quantity of cheese.

Each donkey produces just a small amount of milk daily, and it takes 25 liters of milk to make just one kilogram of Pule cheese. The cheese is produced using traditional methods, and its unique, white, crumbly texture and rich, crumbly taste have made it a sought-after delicacy among cheese connoisseurs worldwide.

Due to its rarity and the cost involved in its production, Pule cheese is often reserved for special occasions and is considered a luxury item.

What does Pule Cheese Taste Like?

Pule cheese is distinguished by its robust, distinctive taste and singular consistency. Its taste is reminiscent of young manchego – a blend of earthy and nutty tones, slightly seasoned.

The donkey milk imparts a creamy, rich undertone that complements its tangy and somewhat tart profile, which is noted to be subtle and fresh.

While its flavor profile might resemble some hard cheeses, its texture sets it apart. Just think of a drier, extended-strained variant of feta or ricotta, being soft and crumbly in nature.

How Pule Is Made?

Initiating the cheese creation, the milk undergoes a curdling process with rennet, known as a natural enzyme, assists in segregating the curds from the whey within the milk. Following this, the curds are extracted, compressed into molds, and subsequently kept in a moisture-rich, cool environment for about three days, facilitating the early stages of cheese formation.

After molding and shaping, the cheese undergoes a month-long aging process. Once aged, it's packaged, ready to be presented in the premium market segment. The Cheese Atlas highlights that the average market price of pule cheese stands at an impressive $600 per pound.

What Makes Pule Cheese So Expensive?

Originating from a single Serbian farm and its associates, the allure and price of pule cheese stem from the intensive labor it demands.

To craft just one kilogram of this delicate white cheese, about 25 liters of donkey milk are needed, calling upon a sizable herd over an extended period. Boasting a rich taste and a creamy texture, pule cheese blends 60% donkey milk with 40% goat milk.

Its premium price mirrors the lack of machinery compatible with donkeys, milking is entirely a hand-driven process, carried out three times daily. Annually, the upkeep of the farm amasses costs nearing US$100,000.

In contrast to cows, which can yield up to 60 liters of milk daily, a jenny (female donkey) offers only about two liters. Furthermore, those responsible for the milking must ensure the jenny has nourished her young for roughly three months before they can procure the milk for cheese production.

Considering the Serbian regulations and the challenges of using machines to milk jennies, broad distribution and mass production aren't feasible. Consequently, enthusiasts aiming to savor the world's priciest cheese must procure it directly from its source.

Given that Balkan donkeys yield merely about a gallon of milk daily for half a year and have a 54-week pregnancy period, their milk becomes a limited commodity. The extensive gestation period further limits the milk supply. Coupled with the diminishing practice of breeding and milking these donkeys, Pule cheese's rarity and its subsequent premium price point become evident.

How To Serve Pule?

The Pule cheese is ideally savored when freshly served alongside a local rakia drink. Complementing it with a cup of Turkish black coffee is also a delightful choice. To turn it into a full meal, accompany it with regional cured delicacies such as Mangalica sausage and speck.

In the Balkans, pule cheese often complements traditional meals like polenta or goulash, serving as an embellishment or finishing touch. Additionally, integrating pule cheese into recipes, such as risottos or polenta, enhances the dish's richness and multifaceted flavors.

Health Benefits of Balkan Donkey’s Milk

It's widely acknowledged that the donkey’s milk are rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins A, B, and E, beneficial fats, proteins, and calcium. This makes milk a nutritious staple in many diets. When transformed into cheese, these nutritional benefits become even more concentrated.

Among the many cheeses available, Pule stands out for its exceptional health benefits. Derived from donkey milk, which is believed to be approximately 60% more nutrient-dense than cow or goat milk, Pule offers a diverse range of vitamins. These can contribute significantly to the body's recovery and maintenance, whether addressing everyday health or more chronic conditions.