An hour before day break, more than a hundred milkmen are already busy milking hundreds of native carabaos in the lakeshore town of Lumban, famous for its intricately woven barong tagalog. Because of its wide green fields near the “dagat” as locals call Laguna de Bay, Lumban is the grazing area for carabaos owned by the makers of kesong puti in the adjoining town of Sta. Cruz, the bustling capital of Laguna.
By eight o’clock in the morning, the collected milk in sealed bumbong, a 15liter capacity stainless steel container, attached on both sides of a motorcycle, are rushed to Bagumbayan, one of the 26 barangays of Sta. Cruz where a hundred households are engaged in this much sought-after indigenous delicacy.
One of the biggest kesong puti makers is 55-year-old Gil del Mundo, whose two maggagatas (milkmen) deliver a total of 40 liters every morning to his home cum cottage,cheese factory beside the highway leading to the poblacion. Milk is strained in cheesecloth, afterwhich it is poured into a stainless steel casserole and heated for 15 seconds. After it has been cooled in a basin of cold water, a cup of rennet and a half-cup of salt are mixed in 15 liters of milk. The white concoction is strained again to remove whey (water) for 15 minutes.
“It is then put in a big plastic pail where it is mixed thoroughly by hand until it curdled,” explains Del Mundo, who, together with wife Virgie, owns 50 head of carabao (15 of whom are males). “The curds are then poured in rows of halabing (round moulds made of banana leaves) and then let stand for about ten minutes,” adds the fourth-generation kesong puti maker in Bagumbayan, a big barangay with more than 12,000 inhabitants located two kilometers west of the Sta. Cruz town center. “Two halabing are wrapped in a piece of banana leaf, tied with straw and encased in a talulo, a squared piece of dried sheath of beetle nut tree (bunga) that holds a basta (small bundle) together.”