Having long enjoyed the textures of international cheese brands, Indian turophiles are now coming to appreciate what their own country has to offer
Words: Purnima Sharma
The Indian palate is slowly turning adventurous. Turning towards home, Indians are now devouring and experimenting with a vast range of cheese from chhurpi to chhuru and kalari to Kalimpong cheese. The plethora available is slowly but surely becoming a part of the foodie smorgasbord.
“Yes, the Indian gourmet may love his cheese imports like cheddar, camambert, parmesan, brie and feta, but he is also letting the quintessential Indian varieties become part of his everyday menu,” says Sabyasachi better known as Chef Saby. The food creator has been doing his bit for promoting the scene by using a variety of desi cheeses such as Manali mozzarella and varieties from Kalimpong, Puducherry, Kutch and Kodaikanal in his food preparations. Needless to say, the cheese platters that he creates look like works of art and are relished by his discerning clients.
India boasts of a great dairy culture and cheese, particularly from the Himalayan regions, forms an integral part of it. The kalari variety of cheese is made by the Gujjar and Backerwal nomads of Jammu & Kashmir. Cheese connoisseur Chris Zandee was fascinated to see the way the cheese is being prepared. “Kalari is more like mozzarella since it’s a soft, stretched cheese,” says the Dutchman who visited Pahalgam in 2007. It wasn’t easy but his efforts paid off and today, this lean, low-fat content product that is made by the Himalayan Cheese company is finding markets across the country.
For more than 70 years, Mysuru has been offering the Indian-flavoured cheddar cheese crafted by the owners of Prakash Store. The essential flavour of this cheese comes mostly from the local milk used to make it infused with the vegetarian rennet (enzyme needed to coagulate the milk) used in the preparation. Anil Prakash of Prakash Store says, “Hills offer a very conducive climate to cheese-makers; so we have the advantage of not just excellent organic milk but also a natural process in which the cheese is allowed to mature over periods ranging from one-and-half months to one year.”
Happy that cheeses, besides paneer (cottage cheese), are finding popularity with foodies, maître fromager Aditya Raghavan who is familiar with the many indigenous varieties claims, “They’ve been used by our chefs and cooks for centuries and stand apart for their interesting and unusual taste.”
Raghavan gives examples of chhurpi – both the soft and hard varieties – that comes from different Himalayan regions like Sikkim; the Kalimpong cheese made of cow and yak milk produced in areas around Darjeeling; the 400-year-old bandel that was introduced when the Portuguese set up their colony in West Bengal’s Bandel village using indigenous methods and the topli nu paneer, a Parsi delicacy that is very close to the Portuguese queijo fresco, among others.
Cheesing the Country
Giving Raghavan company are many chefs across the country who are working to create awareness about indigenous cheese through attractive platters and recipes. Having just curated the menu of the newly-opened Vagator Beach Shack in Gurugram, Sidharth Behera says. “We have a great tradition of cheeses that need to be explored and glorified. And already, many of our dishes that are made using desi cheese are proving to be very popular.” The mixologist is also helping his restaurant create its own brand of cheese “with a lot of herbs and spices from across the country” in it.