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Years back I was excited—and then crushed—to come across fermented mare and camel milk at Mundelein's great Russian Alef Sausage & Deli. The stuff turned out to be fake, and my dreams of drinking shubat like a proper Kazakh were deferred. But dreams never die, as I learned when Friend of the Food Chain Dr. Peter Engler reported that he'd found raw pastured camel milk for sale on Devon Avenue. That's right. There is a confederation of Amish-run camel dairies squeezing udders across the midwest and bottling it under the banner of Desert Farms, a Santa Monica concern founded by entrepreneur Walid Abdul-Wahab, inspired by a gift of fresh ungulate lactate while visiting Saudi Arabia.
Camel milk, based on a cursory Google search, seems poised to be dubbed the next superfood, with lots of hopeful claims about its health benefits: everything from liver damage prevention to improving glucose intolerance to alleviating symptoms of autism. It's said to have half as much fat as regular whole moo juice and is supposed to be full of the same sorts of probiotic mojo that raw cow milk devotees are so fond of.
Desert Farms offers a range of raw and pasteurized camel milk products including kefir, soaps, and colostrum, which sells for a whooping $120 per 16-ounce bottle. You can find the basic frozen raw camel milk for sale at the Muslim Women Resource Center Community Discount Store on Devon, which has a fascinating array of Pakistani, Iranian, Indian, and Burmese products, and lots of dried fruit from Afghanistan. Check out the dried white mulberries next time you're looking for a novel teatime snack.
So how does the milk taste? It has a much lighter body than raw cow's milk, but it's slightly sweet and a little salty. Very refreshing, until you get to the bottom of the bottle, where the proteins settle, taking on a gritty, almost sandlike consistency that's unrelieved by any amount of shaking.
The store was touting the stuff as a luxurious holiday treat last month at $19.99 a bottle: "Honor your guests this Ramadan with America's first and finest camel milk."
Or in the words of Dr. Engler: "Serving camel milk at iftar must be like breaking out the Pappy at a party."
Muslim Women Resource Center Community Discount Store, 2727 W. Devon, 773-764-1686