Looking Back

Decades-old papers and ‘quesong puti’

/ 12:12 AM December 07, 2016

Another semester ended, classroom lectures are no more, yet teachers have to deal with the biggest hurdle now—marking papers and computing grades. Lecturing takes up actual class time; grading takes three times more outside the classroom.

Since I have gone paperless for a number of years now, the stack of term papers and projects that used to grow in my office cubicle is no more.


Years ago, I knew it was the end of the term when a former colleague would hand me all the used folders and binders she received during the semester. These were put to good use in the filing of my collection of documents and other materials.

The need for physical copies of research material has decreased since the internet made basic references available. Of course, a lot more can be downloaded online for free from generous libraries abroad—like the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the University of Michigan Libraries in Ann Arbor, to name a few that have shared their Philippine material.


One academic packrat I had the pleasure of knowing was the late E. Arsenio Manuel. His library had shelves full of volumes, red marked “Pasig Papers,” that contained the term papers of his many students over decades. Manuel copied the example of the pioneering Philippine anthropologist H. Otley Beyer who sent his many students back into their communities to research on their lifeways, history, etc. All the compiled term papers are now in the Australian National Library where they are listed as the H. Otley Beyer Ethnographic

papers. At first glance, the term papers seem to be about ordinary topics—e.g., local history, mat-weaving, games children play—but these were recorded a century ago, documenting a part of Philippine life now long gone.

In October 1919, Teodulo Agus submitted a term paper on cheese. He reported:

“The cheese industry in the Philippines, especially in the Tagalog provinces, is quite different from the same industry in other countries. The materials used are bamboo tubes about ten centimeters in diameter and half a meter long, into which the milking is done; square boxes of four or more centimeters in height which serve as the molds; and clay pots or metal cans in which the milk is coagulated. Men experienced in milking carabaos are also needed.

“If the cheese maker has no carabaos he must make a contract with the owners of these animals, to whom he pays 20 pesos or more per chupa (20 liters) of milk. The carabaos are milked every morning by the hired milkers, each of whom goes on his round taking with him bamboo tubes. On his return to the factory, record is made of the milk collected from each carabao owner. If the cheese maker has no selling agents, he must act as his own seller. So far as I know, there is no definite market for this commodity. Some makers sell their product at railroad stations. Any cheese leftover is hawked about town.

“Butter is also made from the cheese, an industry that is little known, but which is so remunerative as the cheese itself. No other by-product is manufactured.”

The first cheese maker I ever met was Nora del Valle of Lumban, Laguna. She was introduced to me by the late Doreen Fernandez whose food column provided Aling Nora with a steady stream of well-heeled Manila customers, who sent their drivers to buy out her cheese. I do not know if this little cottage industry has grown into a real business, but at the time she was easy to find because hers was the only house with a tree on Rizal Street. She sold quesong puti packed in Tupperware containers, explaining that those wrapped in banana leaf had to be consumed right away and could not be stored in the freezer or fridge for a long time.


Then there was quesong puti from UP Dairy in Los Baños, which came sealed in thick plastic bags. Here one had the choice of fresh milk from cow, goat or carabao—all safe and pasteurized, some in chocolate flavor. These products now make their way to the weekend markets in Salcedo and Legaspi in Makati.

Tracing the history of quesong puti from carabao to table, from the 19th century to our times, will be a fascinating read.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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