There is much more to cheese than the processed kind and it’s only a click away. Meet some of the urban cheesemakers of India.
Cheese is one of my favourite foods, especially if we are talking about table cheeses, the kind you buy in a French market which have been carefully crafted by some farmer or cheesemaker and matured in their cellar. All you need is some crusty bread and a glass or two of a good wine, and off we go for a completely satisfying meal. However, this kind of experience doesn’t come along for most of us in India, too often. In India, we have had to be content with mainly processed cheese in the past. Today, things are different. Thanks to our Markets by Karen Anand, shops like Nature’s Basket and the online revolution, cheese in India is today a different story.
For the French, cheese comes generally at the end of the meal, before dessert and after the main course, or instead of dessert completely. The French do cook with some cheese but these are mainly gratins or baked dishes and cheese toasty things known as Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame. It is the Swiss who have really perfected the art of cooking with cheese in the form of raclette and fondue. Raclette means “to scrape” and the cut side is placed facing a fire. As the cheese melts, it is scraped off onto boiled potatoes. Just the right thing when you are nursing a broken ankle after a bit of exhaustive skiing.
Fondue is another version of this “melted” cheese. It is traditionally made from a mixture of Gruyere and Emmental. The first is firmer and more “meadowy” in aroma, while Emmental is more stringy, melts quickly and has a more nutty, hay-like flavour, which is also sweeter. Along with the addition of some white wine and kirsch, the cheeses are melted in a pot and every person sitting around the table digs cubes of crusty bread into the hot melted cheese sauce. It is devilishly good and is guaranteed to add a few inches to the waistline if you have it on a regular basis.
It is usually wrapped in greaseproof paper or cheesecloth and kept on a windowsill or in the cold part of the house in Europe. However in India, with our humidity and heat, I find it better to wrap cheese in foil or cling film and keep it in the warmest part of the refrigerator (cheese compartment) or in the vegetable tray. Try not to freeze cheese. Freezing will affect the taste, texture and meltability. Cheese has to breathe to maintain life and vigour. Don’t be afraid of a bit of mould. This is a sign that the cheese is ‘natural’ with no preservatives. Just cut or scrape it off and use the rest.
The million-dollar question: Should you eat the rind or shouldn’t you? Even the experts don’t agree. According to Larousse des Fromages, the French cheese bible, it is all a question of personal taste. Larousse advises, however, not to leave a messy plate full of little bits of crust. Pierre Androuet, the dean of Paris cheese merchants, is more definite. Never eat the rind, he says, because it harbours all the cheese-developing moulds and yeast and can emit an alkaline odour. The truth? It’s really upto you. The rinds of semi-soft cheese, such as Reblochon or Camembert, can have a very nutty flavour. The crust is always discarded when eating hard mountain cheeses, such as Emmental, Gruyere and Tete de Moine.
Wine and cheese
Matching cheese and wine is not easy. ‘Red wine with cheese’ is outdated, inadequate, even wrong. Many cheeses are better with white wine.
• Fresh cream cheese, creme fraiche, mozzarella, mascarpone: light crisp white — Vinho Verde; or Rose — Anjou, Rhone; or very light, very young, very fresh red Bordeaux, Bardolino or Beaujolais.
• Hard cheeses, waxed or oiled, often showing marks from cheese cloth — Gruyere family, Manchego and many other Spanish cheeses, parmesan, Cantal, old Gouda, cheddar and most ‘traditional’ English cheese: Particularly hard to generalise here; Gouda, Gruyere, some Spanish and a few English complement Cabernet Sauvignon and big Shiraz/Syrah wines, but strong cheese needs less refined wines.
• Blue cheeses: Roquefort is wonderful with Sauternes, but don’t extend the idea to other blues. It is the saltiness of Sauternes, especially old, which complements the saltiness of the cheese. Stilton and port, preferably tawny, is a classic. Intensely flavoured old oloroso sherry, dry amontillado, Madeira, dry Marsala and other fortified wines go with most blues.
• Natural rind (mostly goat’s cheese), with bluish-grey mould. The rind becomes wrinkled with maturity, and is sometimes dusted with ash: Sancerre, light fresh Sauvignon Blanc, Soave, Italian Chardonnay.
• Bloomy rind soft cheeses, pure white rind if pasteurized, or dotted with red: Brie, Camembert, Chaource, Bougon (goat’s milk ‘Camembert’) — full dry white Burgundy or Rhone if cheese is white and immature; if matured, powerful, fruity — Saint-Emilion, young Australian (or Rhone) Shiraz/Syrah.
• Washed-rind soft cheeses, with rather sticky orange-red rind: Langres, Epoisses, Maroilles — reds, vigorous Languedoc, Burgundy, Corsican, Southern Italian, Sicilian reds.
• Semi-soft cheeses, grey pink thick-ish rind: Livarot, Pont I’Eveque, Reblochon, Tomme de Savoie, St-Nectaire Powerful white Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Alsace Pinot Gris, dryish Riesling, southern Italian and Sicilian white, aged white Rioja, dry oloroso sherry.
Cheesemakers to look out for in India
All the cheeses below are available in the cities/towns they are made. Many will deliver across India.
Namrata Sundaresan and Anuradha Krishnamoorthy of Kase cheese started making cheese just over five years ago in Chennai
Namrata Sundaresan and Anuradha Krishnamoorthy of Kase started making cheese just over five years ago in Chennai and the dynamic duo have a huge variety already, including a stunning halloumi, aged cheddar and gruyere. Namrata is one of the training partners of the Academy of Cheese in London and the only one from India. Their new goat cheeses are outstanding with milk sourced from farmers in Gujarat. Namrata and Anuradha do a splendid job even during lockdowns. Tons to choose from but if you like a mature cheddar, their cheddar, aged for 12 months, is matured in Sangiovese leaves from the Fratelli vineyards, is brilliant as is their blue cheese. Everything arrives by courier to the doorstep in proper chilled boxes with a big icepack. Order online from www.kasecheese.com
Kumaoni Blessings, Delhi
The name may sound like a spiritual quest but Amit Mital and his wife Victoria actually make some of the best French-style cheese in the country today. Some of them, like the Brie No. 5 and the Reblochon No. 6, are so unbelievably close to the original French ones that when I close my eyes, I could be in France. Incredible! His story with cheese is also remarkable. With no background in food whatsoever and encouraged by expat angler friends, he went to Turin to do a short course in cheesemaking in 2019 and a few months later started making cheese in Delhi and in Manali. He delivers all over Delhi NCR and will send all over the country. Order online from www.kumaoniblessings.com
Karen Anand with Nitin, the owner of Old Hill Cheese, Mukteshwar
Old Hill Cheese, Mukteshwar
We tasted these cheeses when we were in Mukteshwar last year and admire the talent and ambition of young Nitin, the owner and cheesemaker. His mountain Swiss-style cheese — Tomme and Gruyere, are both exceedingly good. The Gruyere, when dry, can replace Parmesan (Instagram — @oldhillfoods). Available on Big Basket.
Sunil and Deepika Bhu have been around for a while and were a regular at our Gurgaon markets. I popped into their shop Cheese Ball in Meherchand market in Delhi a few months ago and was delighted to find all my favourites there. Tons to choose from. Love their burrata, fresh goat cheese and smoked gouda. Order online at www.fairdairy.com. Also available in many stores throughout the country
Mausam is behind Eleftheria, Mumbai
The name may be a bit of a mouthful but Mausam, the cheesemaker behind this brand, makes the best burrata and baby burrata ever. Dying to try her fromage blanc, flavoured butters and goat cheese. She won a silver rating at the World Cheese award lately for her Norwegian-style Brunost. Order online www.eleftheriacheese.com
Spotted Cow, Mumbai
I’ve been a fan of their truffle brie for a while and they were available online way before Covid and lockdowns. Lots of new products to try. Order online www.thespottedcow.in
Darima Farms, Kumaon Himalayas
Again discovered them when we were in Mukteshwar last year. Their Montasio and Zarai are excellent young mountain-style cheese. Order online at darimafarms.com and in many stores
Again a regular at our Bangalore markets, an Italian woman started this venture in the ’80s and honestly produce some of the best camembert I’ve tasted in India, wrapped in paper and packed in round palm-leaf boxes. Obviously their hill milk quality helps. Their wheels of Montasio are also terrific for a party. www.carosellecheese.in
Father Michael and his colleague Father Jinse ( in picture) have been making cheese for yonks, skills learnt at the Vallombrosa monastery in Tuscany where Father Michael lived for eight years
Father Michael (popularly known as the monk who makes cheese) has been making cheese for yonks, skills learnt at the Vallombrosa monastery in Tuscany where he lived for eight years. I visit their store at a Benedictine Monastery in Bangalore whenever I am there. Prices are very reasonable for their legendary burrata, bocconcini and mozzarella because they are a non-profit church shop. Not available online but they do deliver. Call: 9845449064.
Begum Victoria, Bangalore
I have not personally tried them but since friend and chef Manu Chandra is behind the venture, I’m sure they are great. Heard their soft cheese and Brie is recommended. Available in Bangalore and online begumvictoria.online-order.link
Karen Anand is a culinary consultant, food writer and entrepreneur. Follow her on www.facebook.com/karenanand and on Instagram @karen_anand
AT A GLANCE
Should you eat the rind or shouldn’t you? Even the experts don’t agree
Cheddar goes well with Cabernet Sauvignon and big Shiraz/Syrah wines
Cheese has to breathe to maintain life and vigour. Don’t be afraid of a bit of mould