Let’s get cheesy
We grew up salivating on images of shortbread biscuits, google buns and hunks of fresh farm cheese without quite drawing regional parallels to Blytonesque foods. Or, did we? Did we, as children, ever pair the idea of curdling milk with its rotting reek to pop candy signage? With the Slow Food movement finding a stronger toehold in the Indian food and beverage industry, we follow a cheesy trail that can safely be called the country’s own. Our love for gouda, gruyère, cheddar or mascarpone can sit tight, as we discover homegrown cheese varieties finding their niche on the city’s swish restaurant menus.
May it be the stringy Kalari from Kashmir, the crumbly Chhana from Bengal, the tough Surti Paneer from Gujarat or the mouldy, blue Churu from Sikkim — every kind has a story to tell. Gool Daruwala, a resident of Cusrow Baug in South Mumbai, makes Topli Nu Paneer for a small clientele. He says, “I want to cater to my friends and do not wish to take up bigger orders as half of Maharashtra suffers from water shortage. Paneer requires several washes.” Mukul runs a cheese store Kolkata’s New Market area and claims to be the sole supplier of Kalimpong and Bandel cheese in the country. He says, “The process involves immense toil, but I do not intend to mechanise it as my objective is to hold on to the art of making cheese.”
SOURCE IT RIGHT!
Ameya Mahajani, consultant chef at Aromas Café, uses Bandel cheese in his kitchen. This dry, brittle cheese originated in the Portuguese colony of Bandel in West Bengal and has a smoky flavour. “It is made from cow milk by separating curd from whey, using lemon juice. It is then moulded in small baskets and smoked over wood fire. It can be stored well in a refrigerator,” he says. “I love making Crostinis using Bandel cheese. Take a baguette, make thin slices, apply garlic butter and toast the top in an oven. In a pan, add olive oil, some butternut squash chunks, spinach, pine nuts and a dash of salt and pepper. Top this mixture onto the toasted baguette and then crumble some Bandel over the top,” the chef gushes. “At home, I use it in gajar ka halwa to replace khoya. The saltiness balances the halwa’s taste. I have also replaced Scamorza with this cheese in our Greek Salad,” the chef signs off.
AN ODE TO WINTER
“Winter months are special as the season is rare to catch in Mumbai. I use Bandel feta cheese and Kalari to mark its onset,” says chef Subhash Shirke from The Pantry. He uses it in a salad, which is a reflection of the season’s specials. A combination of mussel sprouts, amarphal or persimmon, almonds and strawberries, this salad tastes of its natural components. “I do not add sugar, honey or salt to this Hill Station Salad. The fructose is balanced by the salt in this feta cheese and creates magic,” the chef fondly explains. Ask him how well-received is his innovation among diners and he says, “These days, people visit restaurants to have experiences. They are not looking for something they are accustomed to. The Hill Station Salad has been a constant for many diners and I have received positive feedback about it. It is always healthy and advisable to have whatever is in season.”
ALWAYS TRYING AND ERRING
Abhishek Pednekar, chef at Woodside Inn, says, “Using a local ingredient in a dish is the result of many trials and errors. We make a Bandel cheese dip that has slow-cooked pork belly fat and tomato concasse.” The chef also uses Tomme De Bombai Cheese in their Ham and Cheese Sourdough Sandwich. The smokiness of ham complements the fruity consistency of Tomme De Bombai. The chef adds that this variety was not easy to work with.
SAY NO TO FOREIGN CHEESE
Thomas Zacharias, chef, The Bombay Canteen, says, “I toured across India and realised the potential of regional flavours and indigenous produce. In our kitchen, we only use homegrown cheese varieties. Topli nu paneer, which is inherent to Parsi cuisine, is used in our Maa Ki Dal as a topping, as it gives a creamy texture to the preparation.” He also talks about the Bandel Cheese Stuffed Chillies and the Guti Aloo Kulambu. “Bandel Cheese Stuffed Chillies are topped off with a zesting of gondhoraj lime and the flavours organically come together,” he elaborates. The chef says that adding Kalimpong cheese to their regular kulcha is a hit. This dish is called the Bacon and Kalimpong Cheese Kulcha.