Tikomart: butter and dry cheese from Mali and Niger

In the areas inhabited by the Kel Tamasheq and the Peulh, the traditional production of tikomart, an ancestral dry cheese still perpetuates the role of conserving milk, even at high temperatures such as those in the desert regions, while allowing nomadic populations to carry very nutritious food supplies during their long journeys and at times when other sources of food are scarce due to drought.

Milk (akh) plays a key role in Tuareg pastoralists in Mali because it nourishes, refreshes and heals. Dairy products such as melted butter (widi) and dry cheese are also of great importance in their gastronomic culture.

Tikomart is a cheese made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or a mixture of the two that is so dehydrated that it can not be chewed anymore. Only a mortar and pestle can be used to break it into pieces so that it can be eaten dipped in tea or mixed with millet porridge.

This cheese is therefore mainly used as a seasoning. A dried kid’s stomach piece provides rennet for curdling milk, which is placed in a large wooden tub.

Using a large ladle, the women remove the curd and place it on a mat to drain. They form cheeses by hand before placing them on stalks of wild fennel to flavor them.

Tikomart is produced by the Tuareg (or Kel Tamahaq, “those who speak Tamahaq”), an African Berber people who live as nomadic or semi-nomadic in the desert Sahara and to whom milk products are of enormous importance.

In Mali, this community is concentrated in the regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Milk and milk-based products such as tikomart are valued both for their nutritional quality and their symbolic value.

The Tuareg language has many adjectives to describe the states of milk, whether fresh, sour, curd or diluted. Shepherds use a range of techniques (such as making cheese) to ensure that they retain enough milk for food.

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