Kalari cheese was invented from phata hua doodh (sour milk or milk that went bad), says 28-year-old Shubham Sharma who decided to quit his job as an engineer in 2019. A well-travelled man for his age, he had to return home when Covid struck in 2020.
"But God had better plans for me," he said. "I got in touch with my childhood friends Sandy and Aman. We were three engineer friends who sat down one fine evening and pitched ideas because we wanted to justify our degrees." he said with a laugh.
Growing up eating kalari cheese, a type of Himalayan cheese and a popular snack in Udhampur (a town in the Jammu division of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir), Sharma said he had observed during his travel days how people are fascinated with exotic cheese. It inspired him to find ways to promote kalari cheese. And that led them to open Udhampur's first cafe, the Kalari Cafe, with the intention of promoting local artists and making kalari cheese popular.
Sharma shares an interesting anecdote on how kalari cheese was discovered. In the early days, the nomadic herders found it difficult to sell their milk during the long harsh seasons in the high mountains. They gradually realised that the unsold milk which had turned sour could be made into cheese and eaten.
Mozzarella Of Jammu and Kashmir
Traditionally eaten as a fried snack with lime, chilli or tamarind chutney, kalari when fried and stuffed between a kulcha is called 'kalari kulcha'.
According to many, kalari originates from Ramnagar, Pancheri, Chenani of Uddhampur, Rajouri and Poonch. It is made from the milk of cows, buffaloes, and goats. The milk is heated to a mild temperature. The mixture is stirred till it coagulates and separates from the whey. Traditionally, kalari cheese is moulded to its spherical shape by placing it in a "Doona". The community has also been shaping them with their hands. It is then sun-dried for a day or two on pine leaves until it gets ready for consumption.
Putting Dogra Delicacy On The Map
If you are serious about trying some mouth-watering, traditional Dogra cuisine, you just cannot miss trying kalari, which has now emerged a fast favourite among foodies in the region.
If you are in Kashmir, Pahalgam, drop in at the Himalayan Cheese factory which makes and markets kalari cheese among other things. Shubham says, "Kalari is Dogra delicacy which I have been consuming since childhood but it did not get the kind of attention it deserved like most other European cheese that oftenget termed as "Exotic" and ours was not even on the map. It's important that we revive our culture through food".