What Is Rushan?

A. Leverkuhn

Rushan is a unique Chinese type of cheese often called “fan cheese” because of its thin shape. This cheese is most commonly made by the Bai people in the province of Yunnan in southwest China. Rushan is a cow’s milk cheese that is most commonly grilled or deep fried, or eaten in its raw state. It is distinguished from another similar type of cheese called rubing that has a slightly different composition, and which is used in the same Chinese communities.

Rushan is a cow’s milk cheese that is often grilled or deep fried, but can also be eaten raw.
Rushan is a cow’s milk cheese that is often grilled or deep fried, but can also be eaten raw.

"Fan cheese" is a cheese that is made in thin, flat pieces with a leathery texture. To make this cheese, cooks commonly curdle cow’s milk using vinegar. The resulting curds are rolled into flat pieces, and then often stretched over bamboo to provide the final result. Although the use of this cheese may seem obscure in terms of the entire continent, experts have found that China includes over a million Bai, making the rushan cheese a food that is familiar to a large culinary audience.

Rushan is primarily made in the Yunnan province of China.
Rushan is primarily made in the Yunnan province of China.

In many presentations of this cheese, the "fan cheese" is rolled up along with other ingredients into a “stick” shape. Common sweeteners include honey, chocolate syrup, or other confections. Alternately, cooks might deep fry the cheese. This gives the cheese a much different texture, where deep fried rushan often becomes “flaky” or takes on a lighter texture. Either of these presentations is common in the street food of the local communities where rushan originated.

Those who are familiar with Chinese customs point out that dairy products are not common staple foods in the region. That makes rushan a somewhat unique and exotic item. The cheese is often part of a Bai “three course tea” where the food is complemented by tea of varying flavors and ingredients.

Although the global culinary lexicon offers scant references to this type of cheese, rushan is an example of a distinctly ethnic dairy preparation. Considering the ways that the Bai make this product can help cooks understand the entire spectrum of roles that cheese plays in world cuisine. Knowledge of this food can also come in handy in creating surveys of global cuisines for modern culinary audiences. Many would classify rushan as a hard cheese and not a soft cheese because of the way it is commonly made, and the final result, where the rubbery texture of the cheese makes it useful only for specific kinds of dishes.

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