Have you read the studies that have proven cheese can be as addictive as crack? We aren't kidding, guys! Those who are in the thrall of this delicious dairy offshoot will know what we are talking about. Cheeseheads cannot go through the week without several helpings. Most will pick up their loot from deli counters that sell firang cheese, or stock up their cheese larder on trips abroad. But very few know that you get some topnotch handmade artisanal cheese in India. Yes, the land where cheese always meant paneer, has over the years developed a homegrown range that's to die for. Here are a few that you should pick up when travelling around the country.
This all-vegetarian cheese is made in Kashmir with fair trade values by Chris Zandee according to Dutch and local traditions. Vegetarians, you will be happy to know that they do not use animal rennet. The milk is sourced from Gujjars, semi-nomadic pastoralists who rear dairy cattle. We have had the cheese and can swear by its quality. They do a range of gouda, cheddar, and kalari. You can order their cheese online, but they need a minimum value order. Some stores in a few metro cities also stock their range Check their web page for your location.
This is made at a family-run organic cheesemaking farm (and farmstay) in the picturesque hill station of Coonoor. They make gourmet, artisanal cheese from the milk of their hybrid Jersey and Holstein cows. All the cheeses are vegetarian, made with microbial rennet. You can also stay on the farm, and pick up cheese-making skills.
La Ferme Cheese
This line of handmade cheeses is one of the oldest (and best) in India. It was started in 1988 for the citizens of Auroville in Pondicherry. A team of pro cheese makers from Italy and Holland make these using natural ingredients. They produce about 100 kilos daily of a variety of vegetarian cheeses. Just like the Auroville way of life, everything in their cheese is natural, chemical-free and sustainable. The milk comes from the farms in Auroville and from farmers from surrounding villages. Their pasteurisation is done with biogas, water is pumped by a windmill, and waste water is recycled. You can pick from their range of cheddar, mozzarella, feta, ricotta, gruyere, and special seasoned cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Lofabu and the sharp Auroblochon, which is aged over 6 months.
Chhurpi is a traditional mountain cheese made from yak (and cow) milk. It can be found across parts of the Himalayan region. We picked up several varieties of it (fresh and dried) from the organic market in Gangtok, Sikkim.
Relatively new compared to the others on the list, this Chennai-based artisanal cheese brand was started in 2016 by women. Käse, which means cheese in German, has won the ‘Taste of the Market’ award at Karen Anand’s farmers market in Chennai. Their range includes ricotta, scarmoza, mozzarella, haloumi, and a range of feta. They also do special cheeses like the Ode To Chenna, a milgapodi-rubbed cheese, and aged feta rubbed with char-grilled leek flakes. They also do breads, dips and salads.
This mellow but sharp gouda is made in the hills of Kalimpong in West Bengal. It was started by a parish priest in Sikkim. Now, we hear that Amul has taken over (if you've seen the Amul gouda balls in your supermarkets, that is Kalimpong cheese). You can still find huge cheese wheels of 12 kg and 1 kg (sourced from smaller Kalimpong dairies) at the J Johnson's store in Kolkata's New Market.
This cheese is made by monks of the Vallombrosan Benedictine Congregation in Bengaluru. Head to the city's leafy KR Puram neighbourhood and you will find their church-run store selling handmade Italian cheeses such as mozzarella, burrata, mascarpone and pecorino. The name refers to the order’s founding monastery in Italy. The cheese unit was started by Father KL Michael, a priest who picked up cheesemaking skills during his studies in Italy.
This one came to our shores with Europeans, like the Dutch and the Portuguese, when they colonised parts of Bengal (eg, the town, Bandel, after which it is named). These little roundels of cheese are dry, intensely salty and crumbly. They come in two varieties – plain and smoked. The smell and flavour are quite intense. Soak it in water for a while and then use it over salads, pasta, baked dishes or to make grilled cheese sandwiches with a smoky kick. Available at: J. Johnson, E-94, New Market, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata