Believe it or not, the world’s most expensive cheese doesn’t come from cows or goats, but from donkeys. Made on a farm in Serbia, ‘Pule Cheese’ is made from Balkan donkey milk and costs a hefty $1,000 per pound! It is a crumbly white cheese, apparently popular for its intense flavor and natural saltiness.
The world’s supply of pule comes from a single herd of Balkan donkeys that live on a farm in the Zasavica Special Nature Preserve, Serbia. Part of the reason this cheese is so expensive is that donkeys don’t yield too much milk, and they all have to be milked by hand, three times a day. Apparently, 15 donkeys yield about a gallon of milk, and it takes 3.5 gallons to make a pound of pule cheese. The donkeys of the Zasavica Special Nature Preserve only produce enough milk to make around 200 pounds of pule cheese a year, which makes it very hard to come by.
Domesticated Balkan donkeys used to be very popular in rural Serbia, but modern hauling machinery made the people turn their back on this once useful animal. Many of the animals were slaughtered or simply abandoned, and today the Zasavica Special Nature Preserve is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for this endangered species. Pule cheese is actually a very effective way of promoting the conservation of Balkan donkeys, by emphasizing the qualities of their milk.
Interestingly, pule cheese spiked in popularity in 2012, when Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic was rumored to have used his tournament winnings that year to purchase the entire available supply of pule. The rumor proved false, but incredibly fortunate for the makers of pule cheese. A batch of pule cheese sold for a discounted price of $576, while on the open market, cheese lovers had to pay over $1,000 per pound.
“We’d been producing donkey milk all the time, at the price of 40 euros per liter,” farm manager Jovan Vukadinovic told the BBC. “Donkey milk is very nutritious and can strengthen a baby’s’ immunity. As we have plenty of donkeys and an abundant supply of donkey milk, we thought, why not try donkey cheese.”
But pule cheese is not the only thing donkey milk is famous for. Queen Cleopatra is believed to have used donkey milk as a skin treatment, and eben in modern times, it is used as an ingredient for beauty products.