I am forever running in circles. Stressing out about something I can’t remember an hour later. Huffing over every slight and feeling queasy about the hundreds of things left to do each day. And no direct sunlight, thank you.
This makes me a pretty typical “pitta” person apparently — an Ayurvedic description of everything from my digestive habits (how personal!) to my anger management techniques. Despite such rash labels being a little earthy-crunchy for my sensibilities my new pal, ghee-maker Peter Malakoff, informs me of my diagnosis within five minutes of our meeting.
I gotta wonder what else 5,000 years of collective Indian wisdom is telling him about me. I instinctively suck in my gut and start worrying if I’ve put on enough deodorant today.
Walking a quiet path around his rented Bolinas home, Malakoff, the founder of Ancient Organics, a Marin-based company exclusively devoted to small production ghee, plays Dharma to my Greg. We ponder the imponderables, expand our minds and explore our life paths before we get down to the business of his burgeoning butter empire. You don’t talk ghee without a little back story.
A towering, soft-spoken guy with expressive hands and a penchant for berets, he spins a complex tale of the magical Indian elixir used for millennia. Not quite butter and not quite oil, ghee is the very essence of grass distilled from cow’s milk into liquid gold, in his words.
In less flowery terms, it’s fresh butter boiled for hours to within an inch of its life. It’s used for everything from flavoring food to salving burns and improving complexions. A Swiss-Army knife of Indian condiments.
During the process of ghee-making, milk solids evaporate and what’s left is a paste-like spread that can sit on your shelf – un-refrigerated – for six months. It tastes like really good movie theater butter, meaning that uber-buttery, almost over-the-top flavor that’s hard to get enough of. In a good way.
But this Indian pantry-staple is almost unheard in the west. Which really bums out Ayurvedic practioners like Malakoff who proselytize the wonders of ghee with delicious fervor.
Unlike butter, he says, ghee is actually healthful. It awakes the digestive fire of the body, penetrates deep into the tissues and helps to give balance. Unlike butter doctors (at least Ayurvedic ones) recommend it rather than eschew it. Mixing a shockingly big blob it into rice, he hands me the bowl for a taste. Mmmm. Buttery. But good for you?
Consider what goes into it: Organic Straus Creamery butter from Marin. That’s it, except for some powerful good vibes in the guise of six (or so) continual hours of the ‘Mahamrtunjaya’ mantra played during it’s boiling and only made during the waxing moon (about 14 of 28 days of the month). Like many of biodynamic practices, it has everything to do with the tidal phases of the moon.
Malakoff and his assistant use a cooperative kitchen in Richmond make 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of ghee each month, give or take. The sunshine yellow containers make their way into Whole Foods and Bi-Rites around the Bay Area and ultimately around the globe to his growing fan-base.
And whether you put his ghee in organic brown rice with lentils or on top of your pancakes (which he laughingly calls “God’s Realization”) isn’t really the point. Malakoff ultimately just wants to make you think about what you’re eating. “What we eat is what we become,” he tells me. Sadly, I’m probably a turkey sandwich with mayo these days. But you have to appreciate the absolute focus and belief he puts into each jar of ghee.
He sends off each precious jar as if they’re children he’s seeing off. And in a sense they are considering the time and energy he’s invested. In return, I feel an obligation to take good care of his sunny little offspring. Even if it’s just slathering another spoonful on top of my morning waffle.
Ancient Organics Ghee, available as some Whole Foods or at online. Prices: 16oz,, $18.75, 32oz, $32.50.