Thank you to Andrew Curry for tipping me off about this great piece on koumiss, or fermented mare’s milk. It takes you from drunken Amazons to proto-Indo-European paleolinguistics, and confirms what this lactose-intolerant already feared: horse milk is very high in lactose. It’s on Wonders and Marvels, and it’s by Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University. The ice princess who features in the Hunters and Amazons chapter of If Wishes Were Horses makes an appearance too.
Koumiss was repackaged as “milk champagne” by an enterprising health nut in 1877, and you can read his manifesto (complete with scan typos) here at Archive.org.
It has been long since noticed that certain tribes [in] Russia were completely exempt from debilitating diseases; that is to say, diseases which exhaust the strength and induce emaciation, as phthisis pulmonalis, chronic broncitis, chlorosis, anemia, etc. Their fortunate immunity attracted the attention of physicians, already awakened by the popular reports, which attributed to the daily use of Koumiss, the excellent health of these people, notwithstanding the detestable climatic and hygienic condition in which they lived. …
Koumiss is a white lactescent liquid, with a characteristic odor resembling that of whey, with a lightly assidulous and biting taste, savoring somewhat of buttermilk. It leaves a fresh and agreeable after-taste, is more effervescent than champagne, and when poured out becomes covered with an abundant foam, white as snow, overreaching the glass.