How do you take your curd?
"Very seriously," this would be the answer by the guests to any wedding or social occasion in Lakshmipur.
In the south-eastern district, it is a tradition to wrap up a feast with at least 250 gram of sour buffalo curd per person. If the guests are provided with curd made from other than buffalo milk, it would mean the host is disgracing them. There have even been brawls, foiling marriages, as the menu forgoed the traditional dessert item.
According to Lakshmipur dairy traders, the annual sales of tangy buffalo curd is around Tk50 crore. Some 10 tonnes of buffalo curd, locally known as "Mohisha Doi", is produced in Lakshmipur per day while the volume hits nearly 3,500 tonnes every year.
To meet the demand, yearly some 4,000 tonnes of buffalo milk is required, which comes from buffalo farms located in the islands and char areas at the western and southern part of the city.
According to yoghurt seller Sumon and milk wholesaler Kashem, over 150 yoghurt stores have grown over the years in 40 small and big markets across the district. Most sellers have been selling the famous "Mohisha Doi" for decades.
The "Mohisha Doi" from the district's Ramgati upazila is particularly famous and sells at Tk120-150 per kg.
Some 20,000 buffalos – 6,000 in Kamalnagar, 5,700 in sadar upazila, 1,200 in Raipur and 6,300 in various islands and char areas in Ramgati – are farmed in the district, according to data from the District Livestock office. However, few buffalo farm owners claimed the actual number is at least twice as much.
Locals said, buffalo farming is very common in Ramgati upazila's Char Abdullah, Telirchar, Moulovir Char, Char Mujam, Char Alexander, Char Badam, Kamalnagar upazila's Char Kakra, Maijer Char, Char Shamsuddin, sadar upazila's Char Romoni Mohon, Megharchar and Raipur upazila's Hajiganj, Tunir Char, Sawar Char areas.
The "Mohisha Doi" is in great demand all through the year, with sales going up significantly during festivals.
Yoghurt seller Ismail, who has been in the trade for 17 years, said that the delicious dessert is so popular in the region that there are incidents of brawls in wedding events when the item was not on the menu.
Ismail said he sells 200-2500kg yoghurts every day from his medium-sized store.
"While sales increase ahead of any and all programmes, we sell the most during wedding events," he said.
Ismail, who inherited the business, added that his father sold yoghurt for 50 years.
Md Abdul Matin, chief chef of Motin Decorator at the sadar upazila, said, "No event in Lakshmipur is complete without "Mohisha Doi" on the menu."
He further said that sweet yoghurt made with powdered milk is more popular at the northern part of the district while in the southern area of Ramgati, Kamalnagar, Sadar and Raipur upazilas, the sour yoghurt dominates.
Ramgati Upazila Jubo League President Mejbah Uddin, who runs a buffalo farm, said that his family owns some 200 buffalos at the Char Abdullah union in Ramgati.
"Currently we sell the milk at Tk80-100 per kg," he said.
Ramgati-based Shakhawat Hossain Mia, another buffalo farm owner said, "The grazing land for buffalos has decreased significantly in the char areas as more people have been settling in over the years."
He pointed out that due to diminishing grazing fields, buffalos are not getting enough grass, which is vital for their growth and producing milk.
"Many are quitting buffalo farming for this reason," he said adding, "This has led to a drop in milk supply while the demand of yoghurt has increased."
Milk wholesaler Sumon said that a buffalo produces two to three litres of milk per day.
Asked about the yoghurt preparation process, another yoghurt seller Selim said, "Raw milk is poured into baked clay pots – known as "Tali" – which can contain one to two kgs of milk. After 15-16 hours of incubation period the raw milk turns into yoghurt. Some 950 grams of yoghurt is made from one litre of milk."
Selim added that the yoghurt can be kept without freezing for one week.
The clay pots are sourced from Patuakhali, Barguna and Pirojpur and the cost ranges from Tk16-20 each based on sizes.
Dr Jobaer Hossain, district livestock officer (acting) said that his office has been providing needed support for buffalo farmers to increase milk production in their farms.