For most Indians, cheese has always been synonymous to cottage cheese/paneer or imported processed cheeses. But with more Indians being exposed to foreign cheese varieties, either on their travels to other countries or at restaurants, the market for gourmet cheese is slowly rising in India. According to a report published in 2015, cheese production is growing at approximately 15 per cent per year, which is partially driven by India’s young demographic and growing urban middle class. With this rise in demand, we are also seeing an increasing number of people venture into cheesemaking and starting their own cheese manufacturing company.
Here we feature some of them (in no particular order), who have contributed to the growth of gourmet cheese in the country by producing some of the finest cheese varieties.
Founded in 1976, ABC Farms is a family run business, which was started with only 14 cows and a 27-acre farm at Dehu Road. Founded by Rohinton Aga, Adi Bathena and Eruch Chinoy, today, the company is run by Sohrab Chinoy and his wife Marlene and three children Zubin, Tina and Diana. In the span of of 40 years, the company has definitely come a long way, as they now have over 70 different varieties of cheese to offer. "Cheese is such a fascinating subject, and so versatile. You take the same ingredients and with few different variations you can turn out such a vast range of products. We are always coming up with new different innovative varieties besides our regulars, which keeps it exciting, fresh and fun," says Diana, further adding, "Some of our favourite cheese to make are Gouda and Edam ball cheese."
When asked if Indians are opened to experimenting with gourmet cheese, she says, "It is very hard to generalise a country as large as India with its diverse mix of people. In a broad sense, the people who travel more are exposed to more foods and are far more open to trying out new and different varieties of cheese. In general, though the Indian palette enjoys a much milder cheese and is not normally for anything strong or sharp. And that is the same buying pattern that we see with our buyers as well - the preference is usually any mild cheese. The sharper ones don't have many takers."
After making their mark in Pune and Goa, their plan is to expand their market and set up a branch in Mumbai in the near future. Though they deliver all across India right now, they hope to have a stronger presence even in the south soon.
Types of cheese that go well with Indian foods: You can do so much with so many different types of Indian Foods and Cheese. Mozzarella, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Feta, Mascarpone, to name a few can all be incorporated in a number of exciting different Indian food recipes. One example is a samosa stuffed with Feta.
You need to be older to appreciate wine and cheese - myth or reality: We have an annual Cheese Festival at ABC Farms where we showcase all our cheese with a large cheese board of over 30 varieties for sampling and many different wine companies also come in with stalls and sample their wines. We get in a large crowd of over 6000 people over the two days of the festival. The crowd that comes is a great mix of youngsters and middle aged people. So there in enthusiasm for wine and cheese in the younger generation as well and I don't think you have to be older to appreciate it.
Price Range: Rs 500 per kg to Rs 3,000 per kg
In a small hill station, Coonoor in the Nilgiri Hills, is a 22-acre organic cheesemaking farm, run by Mansoor Khan and his wife Tina Fonseca. Khan, who is known for making the famous movie, Jo Jeeta Woh Sikander, set up his farm with a goal to shape an eco-friendly, holistic and self-sustaining lifestyle, and to grow their own food organically.
"I needed to have some occupation when we shifted from Mumbai to Coonoor, and since we wanted to have cows (primarily for their Gobar!) cheese just naturally followed. I started making cheese within the first month of moving to Coonoor," says Khan, who was introduced to cheese at a very young age, and his dad was also was very fond of cheese.
Currently, they make fresh cheese like cream cheese, Acres Gretta and Haloumi and some hard cheese like cheddar, Gruyere, Colby, Monterey Jack, Havarti, Romano, Smoked cheese and Gouda in various flavours. They also make mold-ripened cheese, which they call Acres Blanc. Though they make so many varieties, he says, "Usually, I find that people buy the more popular cheeses that they have heard about like Cheddar Parmesan, Mozzarella and Gouda."
Besides making and selling cheese, they also started a farm stay, a few years later, in 2009. So if you are visiting Coonoor, why not stay here? You get to taste their delicious cheese and you will also learn how to make gourmet cheese, as they have a cheesemaking course available only to guests who stay in their farm stay.
First cheese you tasted: I can’t really remember which was the first cheese I tasted, but I do remember a couple of cheeses that my dad used to bring home, and this was way back in the 60s. One was a cheese from Calcutta called Bandel. They were small little disks which had to be kept in saltwater. One had a smokey flavour and the other was plain. I remember I used to love the smokey one. The other cheese I remember from around the same time was a cheese called “Ball Cheese”, which my dad used to buy from Dorabjees in Pune. It was covered in red wax and was round like a ball hence the name. From what I remember it had a very cheddar like flavour.
Type of cheese that goes well with Indian foods: Cheddar, Haloumi, Ricotta and Mozzarella
Price Range: Rs 850 to Rs 1,500 per kg
Retails At: Bakers Junction in Coonoor
Casa Del Cheese
Based in Mumbai, Casa Del Cheese, which means "house of cheese" in Italian, was established in November 2013. This home-based creamery was started by business-journalist, Dhvani Desai, whose major chunk of journalism experience was about covering start-ups, small businesses and SMEs, which was one of the reasons that lead her to start her own venture. And the other reason being her love for food. "Food has been my weak point and a passion since childhood. And while I was bombarded with recipe books from my aunts abroad, I realized that 80 % of all the recipes used cheeses which I had never heard of or were unavailable in India. Slowly, the cheeses were made available in gourmet supermarkets, but I realized they were way too expensive. And that’s when I decided to learn how to make cheese myself,” she says.
Desai, learnt how to make cheese by looking at various websites from a European cheesemaker. Her company is known for producing premium quality artisanal cheese, which are all handmade, carefully aged, nurtured and cared for, till they are finally ready to be consumed. While Desai started off by home delivering her products to her customers, she currently is supplying consistently to a couple of restaurants and a few caterers in the city.
"People are getting more and more open to trying new cheeses, thanks to the masterchef revolution and the growing number of people travelling to europe. However, it's still very niche the market, as compared to other nations. And we do have a long way to go," she concludes.
Here are some of the cheeses she makes:
Snowcake (Chevre Style medallions/discs) - This is a classic Casadel cheese, similar to that of french chevre` (fresh). Its firm yet extremely creamy. It pairs well with grilled eggplants and pesto. You can use it on pizzas, with caramelized onions or with crackers and olive oil.
Buffalo Milk Greek Style Feta - Made from buffalo milk, feta is light and fluffy, crumbly yet moist. A perfect addition to crumble over any salad, or egg preparation.
Patra ni cheese - Leaf wrapped Cheese - Silky smooth interior that's wrapped in edible colocasia leaves, which gives a freshness that cuts through the rich creamy, gooey and silky paste. The cheese has a slight tang that makes it extremely pleasant on the palette.
Lavender Frost - It has a white edible rind on the outside with a buttery interior with a mild aroma of lavender. It’s creamy and luxurious.
Oddest pairing with cheese that’s worked: Indian style khichri with feta cheese! In fact we always have our khichri with feta and pickled onions. It takes it to another level.
Cheese novice should learn to appreciate: I would say try and appreciate cheese which are aged and matured. The Indian palate is still trying hard to enjoy these cheeses. Try cheese with an edible mold, whether the feathery white mold of a brie or the pungent blue mold of any blue cheese. However, be wary of cheeses that don't smell right. Very often some of the imported cheeses that one gets even from the finest stores, may have a smell that's unpleasant. This may happen if the cheese has been exposed to uneven temperatures while being shipped or distributed into the country. Cold chain logistics is still very nascent and isn't the best in our country.
Price Range: Starts from Rs 200
Producing authentic artisanal, farmstead, vegetarian, and gourmet cheese products, the Bangalore-based company was founded by Diwakar R in January 2014. It all started when Diwakar’s father retired from his job with the Government, and moved from Bangalore to Hunsur (his native place), where her had around 60 acres of agricultural land. "This land was vacant from very long time. And I really wanted to do something in this sector, so I quit my IT job and started livestock breeding after taking training from CIRG: Central Institute for Research on Goats. And then got into milk production of goats. I realised that practically it was not possible to process and pack fresh milk to the market as could produce only little milk. So after a lot of research, I finally decided to get into cheese making," explains Diwakar. Later, he took a one-day cheese making class from Tina (Acres Wild-Ooty), and took technical training for 15 days from NDRI-Bangalore.
From fresh cheeses like Feta and Mozzarella, to semi hard varieties like cheddar, gouda, colby, monterey jack, colby jack and pepper jack, to exotic cheese like emmental, parmesan, stilton, and brie, currently they sell all of their products at Namdhari’s retail stores. But soon they plan to start selling online as well. They also have plans to have more flavours for cheese like smoked/herbs and spices.
First cheese you tasted: Cheese I tasted was back in 2000’s was GOUDA with crackers at the time of Christmas, I liked it very much, but most of my friends didn’t like it.
Oddest pairing with cheese that’s worked: Pineapple+cheese+honey sandwich
Cheese and wine pairing:
Cheddar – Shiraz wine
Gouda - Zinfandel red wine
Parmesan – Champagne
Emmental – Chardonnay
Brie - Riesling wine
Price Range: Fresh cheese at 250rs / 200gms, Semi hard cheese at 300rs / 200gms, Exotic cheese at 400/500rs / 200gms
Retails At: Namdhari's
Eleftheria Cheese is a micro creamery in Mumbai, that is known for making European-inspired fresh artisan cheese. Started in 2014 by Mausam Jotwani, Eleftheria Cheese products are supplied to pizzerias, standalone restaurants and gourmet caterers in the city. Mausam says, “I missed eating and cooking with fresh artisan cheese after I got back from my masters in the UK and started making cheese as a hobby over the weekends in india. Slowly the hobby turned into an obsession and my room turned into a cheese cave and my mom’s kitchen into a mini creamery. I quit my corporate job and decided to pursue cheesemaking as a profession. That’s when Eleftheria was born, after which I opened a micro creamery in Oct 2015.”
Eleftheria makes fresh European-inspired cheese classics at the moment like Burrata, fresh mozzarella and Fromage blanc. All their cheeses are made using time honoured cheesemaking techniques without any artificial preservatives or colourings. "I love making Burrata because of the technique and skill you need to make it. It's made by stretching cheese curds in water that is 75-80 degrees Celsius. You need to be swift and need to know when to stop the stretching process to make a soft and supple Burrata," she adds. As she also loves making aged cheeses, she says that she would love to add an aged cheese with an Indian character to her repertoire soon.
Cheese novice should learn to appreciate: Well, fresh cheeses like Fromage blanc, buffalo mozzarella are easy on the palate and fun to experiment with. Parmesan is also one of the most amazing and widely used cheeses in the world. Again a fabulous cheese for your salads and also a brilliant snacking cheese with some fresh strawberries and balsamic reduction.
You need to be older to appreciate wine and cheese - myth or reality: My 5-year-old nephew loves the cheese I make and loves nibbling on aged cheddar as well. So I guess you need to be older to appreciate cheese is a myth.
Price Range: Rs 300 for 150 grams and upwards.
It is not as much the love for cheese but the love for people and local farmers that drives the people at Himalayan Cheese. “Cheese making and business is a way to do that. Instead of love for a product, when love for people and ethical production happens then you have a product that is not only good but also is ethically responsible to people and environment, begins Chris Zandee, who founded Himalayan Cheese in Kashmir. Zandee was born in The Netherlands, where he grew up on a small Dutch farm with cows and goats. He was always passionate about helping the poor and farmers. Which lead him to travel to different continents before ending up here in India in a project. He adds, “This project got stuck and we looked into new opportunities. We looked into the resources of the farmers and saw that milk is one of the constant income for farmers. We decided we could work with that in the form of cheese making, which would help the farmers to have better income through the year.”
While they make only three varieties of cheese - namely gouda, cheddar and kalari - what sets them apart from other cheese producers is the fact that their mountain cheese is produced by using full milk of free grazing cows and water buffaloes. And that’s why they say that their artisan cheese is different in flavour. “Gouda is my home type of cheese as it is originated from The Netherlands but I like Kalari very much too, as it is a cheese from the Indian soil since generations and is made in the area where we have set up our cheese factory,” he adds.
You will find their products all over the country and they also offer home delivery through their website and Facebook page, plus several stores and hotels around the country. Further, they are planning to develop more in the food business and natural trusted healthy foods.
Types of cheese go well with Indian foods: It depends on the creativity of the cooks to blend cheese into Indian foods. The kalari is an Indian cheese and is grilled and eaten in a curry or as a snack with a chutney. We eat gouda or cheddar grated in the dal in replacement of cream. Kalari goes well in salads - raw as well as a replacement of the imported or foreign cheese. Cheese is a very good protein that is totally vegetarian (that counts mainly for locally produced cheese) so can be consumed by most people.
Cheese novice should learn to appreciate: Should learn is hard to say as taste can’t be discussed or be forced upon people. I like the Indian Kalari with a chutney. It is a good start. Gouda is the closest to the factory cheese and can be easy for the next step of developing taste for natural cheese.
Price range: Approximately Rs 270/- per 200 gm for Young Gouda
Buy from: On their website or Facebook page
It all started 45 years ago in a Batlagundu, a small town in Tamil Nadu. Founded by Shanker, his aim was to produce cheese that is nutritionally beneficial. Today, his grandson Hari Shanker has taken the responsibility and is running the company with the same vision. A certified master cheesemaker with diploma from Melbourne Uni Australia and masters from Netherlands, Hari says, “It was not till early 2012 that we started to produce cheese with a vision of brand identity. Now since we have been in the bulk industry there are some companies that are looking for a definitive quality and consistency associated with our brand. For example, the TAJ group boutique pizza chains, and also exported to the USA. Our range is completely vegetarian as we do not believe in culling the animal, which is producing the milk, as it does not conform to a life-cycle.”
They make varieties of soft semi hard and hard cheese, each with an unique characteristic. They also craft cheeses by blending in different spices and herbs like chilli, pepper, garlic and basil. “As of today, cheese is sold by its phonetic identity like parmesan, for example. What we do is adopt techniques to render characteristics similar and acceptable than calling it our own type. So Kodaizano is one that will be out soon,” he adds. Regarding the types of cheese, he says there is more and more awareness, and a lot of people are developing a liking towards soft pungent cheeses.
First cheese you tasted: Being in India, I have tasted what my Dad (G.S Mani) was producing at that time. Then came Amul, which I really liked as a kid. After which, I tasted the fondue imported from switzerland and the washed rind type, which had a strong smell. But today one of my favorite types is the washed rind cheese varieties.
Cheese novice should learn to appreciate: As a novice, you should go for different semi-hard natural cheeses.
Price range: Rs 235 for 200 gms and upwards
Retails At: Big Basket
The Spotted Cow Fromagerie
Started by two brothers, Prateeksh and Agnay Mehra, in 2014, The Spotted Cow Fromagerie is a small creamery based in Mumbai, that creates handmade artisanal cheeses which are 100% vegetarian and preservative free. “I have been a home brewer, which actually lead to the transition into cheese, where we started bringing all the imported cheeses. But slowly we realised that it was not the greatest products that were being imported, because of the cold chains that were not good. So I personally decided to get some cultures in and started making our own cheese,” says Prateeksh, who is also a commercial photographer. For Agnay, it was gradual process, when he realised he wasn’t satisfied at his previous companies.
They make three varieties of cheese, which is divided into two categories - Bombrie and camembay in the French style, and Rombay in the Italian style. Their cheeses are all local takes of the originals.
“I feel Indians are open to experimenting with exotic gourmet cheese. Infact when we had started, especially with these three varieties, we had not even expected the kind of response we had got because we knew we were working with a very niche product. Though we try to keep our cheese mild, camembay can be too strong sometimes. But people are out there, trying various things and are wanting to purchase a lot of local produce, which is good. And it is great to see that restaurants are always trying to experiment and do something different. Indian palates have also expanded because they travel a lot now,” adds Prateeksh.
Currently, they supply their products to certain institutions and some restaurants, and also retail at a few online stores. Their future plans include, expanding and supplying their products pan India, and creating exotic varieties of cheese that’s not available here.
First Cheese You Tasted: Prateesksh - I remember, I was doing a shoot at a hotel, where I tried goat cheese for the first time. I liked it the moment I tasted it - it was a lot more creamier, had a lot more tartness to it. It was paired with a cracker and table grape. The combination was so good.
Agnay - This was before we started our company. Whenever I went to the supermarket, I used to pick up a bit of Edam cheese. I was really fascinated by the red colour wax on it.
Cheese novice should learn to appreciate: Firstly I think people shouldn't get intimidated by cheese, because it is an European product or because it is costly. There are people who go around saying the stinkier the cheese, the better it is. But that's not true to that extent at all. So always go with what you like to taste and then build on that. Mozzarella is a very basic tasting cheese, and is mild. Cheddar is also easier to eat. Feta or parmesan is nice and crumbly. Then you can progress to the stinkier cheeses, which have a lot more kick to it.
Price Range: Rs 500 for 200 gms of block sized cheese
Have you tried the artisanal cheese produced by these companies? Have we missed out on featuring other cheesemakers? Let us know, in the comments below!