Swap the paneer for the pecorino: India takes a liking to European cheeses | India
IIt was one day during the Covid-19 lockdown last year that Namrata Sundaresan’s phone started ringing non-stop. Sundaresan, the co-founder of KÃ¤se, the only artisanal cheese maker in Chennai, southern India, was stunned by the avalanche of demands for one thing: pecorino cheese.
âI had 20 people call me and ask for pecorino,â she said. “I was really surprised because pecorino is not something that a lot of people in India are familiar with.” It turned out that a video featuring Italian pasta dish cacio e pepe was going viral on social media and WhatsApp. Suddenly people from all over the country wanted to get their hands on Italian hard cheese. âIt would have been unthinkable two years ago,â Sundaresan said.
India is not known as a cheese-producing or cheese-eating nation except for paneer, the simple cottage cheese which is a staple in Indian cuisine. For decades, the market was dominated entirely by sliced ââprocessed cheese, and well-off Indians and expatriates in need of a cheese solution had to rely on expensive, low-quality imported cheese.
But recently the Indian market – and the palette – has changed. Across the country, artisan cheese makers began to emerge. Now you can get mozzarella, stracciatella, burrata, gruyÃ¨re, stilton, halloumi, reblochon, ComtÃ©, cheddar, feta and fresh parmesan in the cities. and villages of India.
In middle-class urban households, demand for gourmet cheese platters has, in the words of a supplier from Delhi, “skyrocketed” this year. Several companies said they recently sold their festive cheese platters on Diwali. Especially popular are platters with a ‘masala touch’, with cheeses infused with flavors of chilli, truffle and garlic.
âOur business has quadrupled in the past two years,â said Amit Mital, 58, an engineer turned cheesemaker who founded Delhi-based Kumaoni Blessings cheese company. Today, he makes more than 10 cheeses by hand, including a hard cheese matured for one year, a âfragrant reblochon that is all the rageâ and two cheeses of his own invention.
Kumaoni Blessings was one of the cheese companies that flourished during the Covid lockdown, as orders soared. âPeople have become aware of what they are eating; they look for fresh local food and they don’t want to consume heavily processed products, âhe said. âPeople’s eyes opened to cheese. “
When Sundaresan and his business partner started making cheese in late 2015, they had no experience except for a brief lesson in making feta and mozzarella while staying on a farm. But by forming a team of young women with disabilities in Chennai, their KÃ¤se business has grown, and now they handcraft two and a half tonnes of cheese a month, without preservatives. Sundaresan also traveled to the UK, Spain and Vermont in the US, where she honed her craft under the guidance of a master of natural cheese making.
âThe whole shift in consumer attitudes towards cheese in India has been drastic,â said Sundaresan, who responds daily to calls from people needing mascarpone to make tiramisu, alongside mozzarella, feta, cheese. halloumi and a sweet ricotta with apricots and honey, their most popular. some products.
This year, the company is achieving an unconventional expansion by collaborating with nomadic goat herders in Gujarat who will sell their fresh goat milk to KÃ¤se which will be locally processed into cheddar and goat milk gouda. They are also working with camel herders in Rajasthan whose camel milk will be made into manchego and alpine-style cheese.
This week, for the first time, an Indian cheese won a silver prize at the World Cheese Awards in Spain for a Norwegian-style whey cheese invented by Mausam Jotwani Narang, the founder of Eleftheria Cheese in Mumbai.
Narang took up cheese making as a hobby and now his company is one of the main artisan producers in Mumbai. âI grew up on slices of processed cheese,â she says. âSo the world of cheese opened my eyes when I first tried it. “
Narang described his award-winning Brunost whey cheese as âalmost like caramel fudge,â somewhat resembling sweet Indian pada. “For me, it was a combination of something indigenous to us and something global.”
While she was adamant that Indian cheese would be “soon on the world cheese map”, she also acknowledged that artisanal cheese remains a very ambitious food item in India, with prices far beyond what. ‘an average or even middle-class Indian could afford.
Artisanal cheese making is not without its challenges in India. While it had been operating under the radar in recent years, cheese makers freely labeled their cheeses with European names. But several said they had received legal opinions from the Italian Embassy regarding the use of the name “parmesan” and other protected designations, while the Domaine de La GruyÃ¨re in Switzerland recently sent letters to all cheese makers. in India telling them that they were not allowed to do so. use the name. Many have since chosen to call their cheese âalpine styleâ to avoid legal difficulties.
Few people have access to dark, deep cellars to age their cheese, and in Chennai, a cheese that would take a year to age in the UK takes six months in the heat of South India. The lack of a reliable cold chain in the country also makes transporting fresh cheese difficult, pushing up prices. And while India is the world’s largest producer of dairy products, cheese makers are struggling to find the right quality of milk, coming from grass-fed cows that haven’t received any hormones.
Darima Farms, a cheese maker in the Himalayas of Kumaon, Uttarakhand, has given cows to villagers who take care of them in their homes. The farm now buys the milk from more than 700 households, or about 1,000 liters per day, to make more than two tonnes of cheese per month. It took two years of experimentation to perfect the recipes but now her team is made up of young women from the local village who make traditional mountain cheeses like GruyÃ¨re and Montasio as well as three of their invention, including a variety called the ” hot pepper bomb â.
Co-founder Arvind Chawla, who traveled to Italy to learn from a master cheese maker, said that “in terms of authenticity, they are as good as European cheeses”.
âI think Indians finally understand cheese,â said Chawla. âMaybe not as well as the English or the French or the Italians or the Swiss, but they get there. I think this market will explode in the next 10 years.