From processed cheese (and the ubiquitous paneer), Indians are slowly but steadily shifting towards homegrown, international-style artisanal cheese. We spoke to five small-batch cheese makers across India who are tweaking Western processes and embracing local flavours to give us more reasons to say cheese.
Cheese is very much in. Open the menu of any restaurant serving European fare these days and you’re bound to find the burrata salad on it. This photogenic salad with creamy cheese in the centre is de rigueur on every restaurant’s menu. Instagram, always on trend, is awash with rather elaborate cheeseboards. “Artisanal cheese is slowly becoming a part of the weekly shopping cart, at least in metros, and customers are happy to experiment with different varieties,” says Mausam Narang, founder of Eleftheria Cheese. Arpita Nag, founder of Meraki Artisan Cheese adds, “The pandemic saw a rise in people creating at-home fine-dining experiences where cheese platters have been a regular feature.” The call for “Make in India” and #VocalForLocal has added further impetus to locally made artisanal cheese. Consumer awareness is also high. “Today, 8 out of 10 customers ask us about where the milk comes from and whether the animals are grass-fed,” says Namrata Sundaresan, co-founder of Käse Cheese.
When did we move from eating those yellowish-white, slightly oily blocks of processed cheese to devouring soft Mozzarella, tart Chèvre, and aged Cheddar — all made in India? Though India is the largest producer of milk in the world, cheese production and consumption is relatively minuscule. We eat just 700 gm of it (per capita, per year in urban areas), compared to 17-18 kg in the EU and the US. However, over the past few years, there has been a quiet revolution in the cheese space. From the alpine Himalayas and the cool climes of Bengaluru to the less-than-ideal cheese-making conditions in Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata, these artisanal cheese makers are cracking the code.
Founded in 2018, Begum Victoria is an urban, artisanal cheese brand by fromagers Shruti Golchha, Pooja Reddy, and Chef Manu Chandra. Their organic, 100% vegetarian cheeses (including brie, feta, fontina, manchego, and more) are all handcrafted using traditional techniques and responsibly sourced A2 milk. “Bengaluru, at a 1,000 metres above sea level, is very conducive to cheese-making. We primarily focus on aged cheese, and the ageing period can range from several days to years, allowing the cheese to develop a stronger flavour and more crumbly texture,” explains Golchha.
The cheeses are ripened in their state-of-the-art cheese cave in Victoria Layout, Bengaluru (which also explains the brand name). Begum Victoria cheese is on the menu of Toast & Tonic (Bengaluru) and Kala Ghoda Café (Mumbai), and is also available for delivery across major metros in India.
Bestsellers: Brie (double-cream cheese made with cow’s milk)
Also try: Bel Paese (proprietary orange-rind cheese) and Havarti (semi-soft Danish-style cheese)
Call +919886377853 to order
Darima Farms is an artisanal cheese-making unit nestled in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand that was co-founded in 2016 by Saurabh Vinayak and Arvind Chawla. “We began small, with just five cows and three cheese-makers, and have evolved into a facility with the capacity to produce 10 tonnes of premium cheese,” says Chawla. Their repertoire includes cheddar, tomme, gruyere, etc., all made using vegetarian rennet and minus any emulsifiers, chemicals, or additives. Apart from retail stores, Darima Farms also supplies to hotels and restaurants such as ITC Hotels, Hyatt, Andaz, Olive, Caara, and more. “We have a new cheese factory coming up that will scale production to over 20 tonnes per month, and we will add a few varieties including scarmoza and apple wood-smoked cheddar. We also plan to offer factory tours and wine-and-cheese experiences,” adds Chawla.
Bestsellers: Himalayan Gruyère and Zarai (spice-rubbed young cheese)
Also try: Himalayan Montasio (honey-rubbed young cheese)
Mausam Narang started Eleftheria Cheese in 2016, initially teaching herself how to make cheese and then working in two creameries in Campania, Italy. “I started this creamery with the intention of making fresh artisanal cheeses in Mumbai that were as good if not better than their western counterparts,” she says. Eleftheria offers classics such as burrata, mozzarella, ricotta, etc. using traditional cheese-making techniques, and they have recently added cultured butters and Greek yoghurts to their range. “We believe great milk makes great cheese and hence we source our milk from a single-herd cow dairy farm close to Mumbai,” she adds. Eleftheria started with B2B sales, supplying to several restaurants and 5-star hotels in Mumbai and Pune, and has only recently ventured into the direct-to-consumer space.
Bestsellers: Burrata and Halloumi
Also try: Brunost (made by caramelising cheese whey slowly over open fire for 8-9 hours)
WhatsApp +919820141599 or order online
Named after the German word for cheese, Käse was co-founded by Namrata Sundaresan and Anuradha Krishnamoorthy in 2017. “I was introduced to cheese-making at a farm in Coonoor, and along came Anuradha who wanted to do something with women who are differently-abled. That’s how we set up a small cheese-making unit in an urban kitchen in Chennai”, says Sundaresan, who recently became certified as a training partner with the Academy of Cheese, London. While 70% of Käse’s production is soft cheese, they make several infused cheddars in flavours such as pepper, cumin and thyme, cumin and chilli, lavender, and rose. The brand was a fixture at hotels such as Westin, Park Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, and Crowne Plaza, especially at weekend buffets and special events (pre-COVID). They also recently collaborated with Fratelli Wines to launch a range of vineyard-inspired cheeses, which include two washed-rind varieties, and an excellent Cheddar-Yarg combination that is aged wrapped in Sangiovese leaves.
Bestsellers: Feta and Halloumi
Also try: Ode to Chennai (Cheddar coated with milagai podi)
Meraki Artisan Cheese & Rustic Bakes
Based in Kolkata, Arpita Nag is the city’s first artisanal cheese maker. She founded Meraki Artisan Cheese & Rustic Bakes in 2018 and offers a dozen cheeses such as feta, mozzarella, cheddar, smoked gouda, etc., along with desserts and cheesecakes. “We work with farm-fresh cow and buffalo milk, though availability of good quality milk from free-grazing cattle has been a challenge,” says Nag. The cheeses do not contain any preservatives and emulsifiers, and are made using microbial rennet, making them completely vegetarian. “Customers are becoming better informed of what they eat as they are getting more health conscious. Many of my regular customers are mothers who have moved away from buying off-the-shelf processed cheeses,” adds Nag. Pre-pandemic, she would supply to a few cafes in the city and also offered tasting and wine-pairing sessions, though she is yet to resume B2B sales.
Bestsellers: Mozzarella and Tomme
Also try: Charcoal-coated Valencay
Call +918335063614 to order