“Give me a good sharp knife and a good sharp cheese, and I’m a happy man,” said George RR Martin. Cheesemakers in India are taking his words to heart
(Above: Host of options offered at ABC Farms)
ABC Farms, Pune
The trademark logo (of a happy cow) is well recognised by locals in Pune, and the company makes 70 kinds of cheese. Named after the trio of founders Rohinton Aga, Adi Bathena and Eruch Chinoy, the nearly four-decade-old dairy establishment is now owned and run by Sohrab Chinoy and his family. Apart from churning out gorgonzola (blue-veined cheese), pecorino (a hard Italian variety) and mozzarella, the company is also popular for its experiments with cheese, which they bring out at their Cheese and Wine festivals every year. The alcohol-mix and non-vegetarian cheeses have turned out to be winners — think port wine, vodka and cumin, smoked ham, and many more. They also make varieties with coffee and cranberry.
Exito Gourmet, Chandigarh
Giuseppe Mozzillo, a former strategic consultant from Naples, decided to make cheese in India after he found out (during a visit in 2004) that the water buffaloes over here were the same as the ones that once provided milk to make mozzarella in Naples. Thus, Exito Gourmet was established in 2009, with food distributor Puneet Gupta in Chandigarh, under which they bring out bocconcini (a small and soft mozzarella cheese), crumbly ricotta and creamy mascarpone under the brand Impero. Advertising its cheeses as “the best of Italy, made in India”, Exito ships its bocconcini on the day it’s made (considering the demand for fresh mozzarella). It caters to retail chains, continental restaurants and hotels in metros and other cities.
Himalayan Cheese, Kashmir
This brand of cheese combines Dutch cheesemaking knowledge and the mountain milk of Kashmir to churn out gouda variants (in black pepper and walnut), cheddar and kalari. Its website describes kalarias the ‘Gujjar name for Kashmir’s local cheese. A local custom for cooking kalari is to fry it in oil, and then flavour it with salt and chilli powder’. Chris Zandee, who runs Himalayan Cheese, procures milk from a pool of 150 Gujjar vendors, semi-nomadic pastoralists who rear dairy cattle. He follows fair-trade practices, which ensure that local farmers get their due. Apart from retailing from different stores in Srinagar, Lahore, Delhi, Bengaluru, Varanasi and Pune, the cheese is available on the website as well.
The Cheese Collective, Mumbai
Mansi Jasani swears by goat milk for her cheese, and believes it’s healthier than cow or buffalo milk, though she still produces labneh from cow milk. At present, the Mumbai resident makes batches of fresh chèvre, plain or embellished with herbs and dried cranberries, under her label The Cheese Collective, launched in 2013. Curation of cheese sourced from cheesemakers across India is something else she does, so expect camembert, la buchette (a mild blue cheese), a curry-leaf cheese called Le Pondicheri and garlic gouda. In between setting up her creamery and making crottin de chèvre (aged goat cheese disks), Jasani conducts workshops on making mozzarella, cheese-pairing and using artisanal cheeses for cooking.
Cinnabar Farms, Kodaikanal
This beautiful countryside home in Kodaikanal gets mentioned for its cosy rooms, lunches and dinners, but Cinnabar Farms is also well known for its artisanal cheese. Over here, owner K Balakrishnan and his wife make cinnamano, a hard Italian style cheese, and cinnableu, a creamy blue cheese. Other specialties include a yellow cheese and a washed curd cheese, called the Cinnabar Colby. Guests here can participate in their cheesemaking courses, which range from day-long sessions (including cooking with cheese and pairing wine and cheese) for amateurs to longer classes for small-scale and large-scale cheese production.
La Ferme, Auroville
One of the country’s oldest handmade cheesemaking companies, La Ferme Cheese has seen several people heading it since it was first set up in 1988. Currently under the supervision of Auroville resident Benny Ernst, La Ferme Cheese produces more than ten varieties of both aged and fresh cheese (cheddar, gorgonzola, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmesan, lofabu, mozzarella and feta). The cheesemaking unit is eco-friendly — natural biogas fuels the pasteurisation; water pumps run on energy from windmills; and waste water is recycled. The cow milk comes from their farm. Their clients include five-star hotels and retail outlets in Bengaluru and Mumbai, with distributors in Delhi and Goa.