Travelling through South India

Making a pit stop for Millie Mitra’s vegan cheese

Millie Mitra’s vegan cheese spreads   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In June, when British celebrity chef Marco Pierre White visited Bengaluru, he tasted a vegan cheese made of cashew and tofu, and declared it “the best in India.” He had tried Millie Mitra’s burnt garlic and sun-dried tomato hard cheese. Understandably, Mitra, 55, was shocked.

Why vegan cheese?

Millie Mitra

Millie Mitra   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Born into a Gujarati family, Mitra is a vegetarian. But in her teens, she discovered she was lactose intolerant (she regularly suffered from hay fever and an irritable bowel). “There is a direct link between how dairy is an allergen and most of us are lactose intolerant. We don’t have the enzymes to digest the sugar [lactose] in milk. We don’t understand the link between food and health because the consequences are seen much later rather than immediately,” she says. Twenty seven years on, this vegan has even convinced her meat and cheese-loving Bengali husband, Abhik, to convert.

The family of four now follows a plant-based whole foods diet. “You eat food the way nature has given it to you without tampering it. So, you’d have a peanut but not peanut oil, olives but not olive oil,” says Mitra. As her two children grew up, she says snacks at birthday parties were anything but the usual. Cakes full of dates and dosas made with semi-polished rice and no oil were an effort, but worth it.

“When the kids turned vegan, cheese was the hardest thing for them to give up. By then I was experimenting with simple cheeses, using a whole foods, plant-based approach that does not employ any thickeners or preservatives. It was so close to the taste of actual cheese that it became easier for them to stay on track,” she says.

A bazaar best-seller

About eight years ago, Mitra started making soft cheeses — cashew-based or made with a mix of cashew and tofu — with information gleaned from workshops, some experimentation, and, of course, the internet. Soon she was selling out at the city’s farmers’ markets and bazaars, such as 100 Hands and Sunday Soul Sante.

Crowd favourites
  • Among her soft cheeses, the herbed spread and burnt chilli garlic are the best-sellers, while in the hard cheeses, varieties like sun-dried tomatoes and jalapeños sell out fast.

She uses organic cashew from Mangaluru, Himalayan Pink salt, and even dries her own tomatoes. Everything is 100% organic. The ‘cheesy’ flavour comes from fermenting the cashews, which gives it a sour-ish flavour, something she discovered through trial and error. So particular is she about every detail, that her husband has nicknamed her “Militant Millie”.

From ₹500 (soft cheeses) and ₹600 (hard wheels) onwards. The soft cheeses last up to two months and the hard, for at least three. She has started delivering to Gurgaon and Mumbai, with Jaipur, Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai on the cards.

What they say
  • Plant-based chef Jinal Rathod, who uses Mitra’s cheese in her pastas, pizzas, and even dosas, says, “I once ate a whole chilli garlic wheel by myself, in one day!” Even though there are a few vegan options in India, they are nothing compared to Mitra’s sans preservatives alternative, says Mumbai-based Rathod.
  • Meanwhile, Vandana Sarin, 61, and a ‘self-proclaimed cheese monster’, has been a patron for the last eight years. “Millie’s handmade cheeses are a conscious choice, with its organic ingredients and artisanal sensibilities,” she says.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 6:59:26 AM |

Next Story