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Wine loves company

india Updated: May 02, 2009 22:03 IST
Ruchira Hoon
Ruchira Hoon
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

If you thought Indian cheese was limited to paneer, you were wrong. With more than 12 different cheese factories across India, in the last three years, there has been a boom in the Indian made European cheese market. And gone are the days of relying only on Amul and Britannia.

Bocconcini, Scarmoza, Kwark, Emmental... at least 30 different types of cheese are now made in India. Look down your supermarket aisle and you’ll see them sitting right next to the imported cheese, prettily packaged and a lot cheaper. Welcome to the world of artisan cheeses.

It’s the pizza, that most of these cheese makers attribute their success to. “If it hadn’t been for the demand of cheese pizza, no one would have known what mozarella is,” says Sunil Bhu, proprietor of Flander’s Dairy. “And from mozarella, it become mascarpone, gouda, provolone and edam.”

It’s not just that. Cheesemakers feel that the Indian palate has evolved. People are more aware of what they are eating. “Cuisines like Italian, Mexican and Continental have really helped us especially since restaurants have been putting down ingredients in their menu,” says Vikas Bharti, senior executive of Dairy Craft private limited. Now people know exactly what they are eating, “Even at weddings, you see cheese platters that have an assortment of textures.”

Coming of age
As for soft cheeses, Indian cheesemakers seem to have really hit the spot. Fresh mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone and even Bocconcini have found a clear-cut market in the metros. Food blogger, Siddharth Khullar believes that most Indian-made soft cheeses are very good, especially because most companies making them come with foreign expertise. The Exito Gourmet factory (in Chandigarh) has an Italian owner. Auroville’s La Ferme Cheese (in Puducherri) is French. While Flander’s (in Delhi) comes with Belgian experience. Khullar reasons that this is perhaps why they soft cheeses are so good. He goes on to add that since they are made absolutely fresh, “they are a delight to cook with, and the flavours are just right.”

While hard cheeses like Emmental and Edam still have a long way to go, Auroville’s La Ferme Cheese and Kodai Dairy products have their own varieties of blue cheese even — something that most cheese makers in India are still to attempt.“Blue cheese is the hardest to make since it takes a lot more time to make, and to be honest the market is still not big enough for it as yet,” says Sunil Bhu.

With a kick
For most Indian palates, certain European cheeses are just too bland. Which is why flavoured cheeses are becoming very popular with cheese makers. Black pepper, cumin, jalapeno and even different kinds of chillis are the flavours in the market.

According to Dr Umesh Batra of Passion Cheese which retails at Select Citywalk mall in Delhi, the primary reason for this is that Indians like flavour in their food. “Our market research has indicated that flavoured cheese is a big hit. We have introduced flavours like green chilli and paprika that are doing well.”

Logistic hurdle
Indian cheese still hasn’t made a significant dent in the imported cheese market. Most companies believe that with the onset of the slow down, a lot of hotels and institutions are turning to cheaper substitutes — namely Indian made European cheese. “Not only is this being looked at as a matter of cost cutting, but also that the shelf-life of freshly made cheese is far higher than the imported ones,” says Dr Umesh Batra, owner of Passion Cheese, “The concept of natural cheeses as against processed is becoming popular rather quickly.”