Who made my cheese?

February 24, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 04:07 am IST

Forget European Brie. Enjoy the decadence of Indian cheese: fresh Burrata, bold Aurobechlon and the impressive desi Bombrie

Aged right(Clockwise from left) Cheese being made at Mango Hill; Bombrie from The Spotted Cow and Tomme de Semmancheri at The Farm

Aged right(Clockwise from left) Cheese being made at Mango Hill; Bombrie from The Spotted Cow and Tomme de Semmancheri at The Farm

There has been a continuous underground culture of artisanal cheese making in India for over 30 years now; but the enthusiasm amongst consumers is a recent development. In fact, the 2016 issue of The Oxford Companion to Cheese , for the first time, has a section devoted to cheeses in India.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Auroville tasting chocolates with Mason & Co. It was love — pairing local dark chocolate, with local bread, and cheese made in Puducherry’s Mango Hill. The earthy, mushroom-like notes of the Camembert paired beautifully with the cacao-chip 70% chocolate from Mason & Co., but it was the mold-ripened blue cheese, named Aurobechlon, that Mango Hill makes, that was a decadent (read: courageous) pairing with Mason & Co.’s 75% bittersweet chocolate.

Speaking of courageous love, if there is one food group outside of desserts that fits the bill of romance, it is cheese. Back in the 13th Century, English troops were stationed in the northern French town of Neufchâtel. Dairymaids would swoon over the foreign occupiers and gift them small, heart-shaped pieces of white, Brie-like cheeses.

More recently, with EU producing two billion litres of excess milk in 2015, the price of milk has gone down in the major cheese-exporting parts of the world. European cheeses are now flooding our markets at prices much lower than artisanal cheese makers in India can sell at. Perhaps that narrow category of cheeses that fits the bill of being high quality and having a short shelf-life (and thereby not easily imported from the West) is where Indian cheese makers will flourish in the near future.

Local treasures

Walking through farmers markets in the European countryside, one encounters a host of fresh cheeses that would never make the voyage to India. In this category, there are some beautiful ones available in the country, albeit mostly local to their respective markets. If you’re in Mumbai (or visiting), seek out some Burrata made by Eleftheria Cheese. Head cheese maker Mausam Jotwani makes round sacks of stretched mozzarella-like cheese that are filled with fresh cream and hand-tied. Jotwani exhibits great technical skill with her signature hand-shaping that is done at temperatures of about 90ºC. Cut into some fresh tomatoes, add a touch of salt and let the juices ooze out. Tear a few leaves of fresh basil from your herb garden (or use your homemade basil oil, if you managed to save all the flowers and steep them in unflavoured oil), and you will fall in love. The decadence of a fresh Burrata is something I want to enjoy maybe just once a year (after all, it’s mozzarella stuffed with cream) and Eleftheria’s product is dreamy, taking me to the backyard cafés of Italy.

Bloomy rind cheeses with gooey centres and mildly mushroom-flavoured rinds, like the Neufchâtel maidens’ ones, is an underrated style.

The Spotted Cow Fromagerie’s Bombrie (a Brie-style) is a great example of a cheese that is far superior to any imported competitors. The made-for-export varieties coming from Denmark have a long shelf-life because of which they also lack the deep flavour and rich mouthfeel that Spotted Cow’s lends.

Rustic is best

Similarly, if you’re in Chennai (or visiting), drop into The Farm on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR). Their raw cow milk Tomme de Semmancheri (named after the village) is a hat tilt to the rustic, alpine French cheeses found in the Savoyard countryside. It is always a joy to visit The Farm and see free-ranging, healthy cows and buffaloes enjoying their habitat. Having consulted with them over the last three years, I have helped develop a line of nine cheeses. Their counter is filled with portioned Feta cheese in brine, Labneh, farmstead buffalo mozzarella and so on.

Goat cheese is slowly picking up in India. A goat cheese and mint dip makes a great pairing with charry, mutton seekh kebabs. Vegetarians can make a quick vegetable “steak” tartare using finely-chopped boiled winter beetroot, a vinaigrette of lemon juice, mustard and olive oil, topped with a dollop of soft Chèvre.

For a few years now, Mansi Jasani of The Cheese Collective has been selling bottles of Chèvre as well as Cabecou (goat cheese discs in oil) in Mumbai. In Bengaluru, look for Basta Chèvre hitting stores in March. Their farmstead product is a promising direction for cheeses in Bengaluru.

Variety on offer

There are plenty of other options available for the consumer seeking these delicious, often quite perishable, expressions of milk. As the largest dairy producer in the world, India certainly has the bandwidth to produce more cheese, but finding consumers for these is tough.

Real, unprocessed cheese has a short shelf-life, needs to be kept refrigerated and must be consumed soon after opening. As Jasani says, “People need to think of cheese the way they think of bread or wine. It is good for only a couple of days after opening.” With our general outlook towards cheese being shaped by Amul, we may be far from the European lifestyle of buying cheese and gobbling it up in a couple of days.

Aditya Raghavan is a physicist-turned-cheese making consultant. In his free time, he runs gastronomic tours, hosts pop-up dinners and writes about food.

Processed cheese

  • Amul cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, among others, are heat-treated and made using stabilisers and emulsifiers to increase their shelf life. On the other hand, unprocessed, natural cheese, has live bacteria. Once opened, they are not likely to last more than a few days, even in the refrigerator. Drier, aged cheeses will be more forgiving.

  • The Indian board

  • Consider a variety of textures, ages, and flavours on your cheese board. Here’s a good dream-team of desi cheeses:

  • Basta’ssoft Chèvre

  • Eleftheria’sBurrata

  • The Spotted Cow’sBombrie

  • The Farm’sTomme de

  • Semmancheri

  • Mango Hill’sAurobechlon

  • Caroselle’s(from Kodaikanal) Montasio

  • The Spotted Cow Fromagerie’s Bombrie is a great example of a cheese that is far superior to any imported competitors

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