A large variety of cheese is made all over the world. It is one of the staples in Europe and America. But here in India, cheese for the most past has been seen as a flavouring agent rather than a bona fide food item. Cheese, to us, means pizza topping or sandwich ingredient. It means processed cubes or slices of cheddar that you get in packaged form.
But this is not to say that there are serious cheese afficianados among us — the kind who tell their Gouda from their Camembert. Indian metros are in fact part of a growing market for European as well as homegrown cheese. According to the Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) cheese production is growing approximately at 15% every year.
Deepali Bhu owns a cheese farm, called The Cheese Ball, at Delhi’s Lodhi Road. “This place is over two and a half decades old now,” she says. “My husband, Sunil Bhu, is a cheese maker and he is the one making all the products here. We only serve natural products. By natural I mean this is cheese that’s different from the processed variety. That’s what separates us because what is otherwise available in the market is only processed cheese products.”
It’s important to differential natural cheese from processed cheese. Basically, what separates the two types is the cheese-making process. Natural cheese is made in the way that ensures that all the nutrients and health-giving enzymes are preserved. Processed cheese, on the other hand, lacks these organic nutrients. “My husband was trained in Belgium,” Deepali continues. “That’s where he learned to make the Gouda. All the major products which we are making are done in the European way. We also do small amount of paneer at one of our properties and our main customers are the institutions which includes hotels and restaurants. But in the retail sector we are still relatively small. Our products are readily available but what makes us different is the fact that what you get here is absolutely fresh.”
Hemant Nandi, a salesperson at The Cheese Ball, says, “We value and believe in quality and taste that’s paramount, as we don’t believe in compromising and tampering with the quality, therefore we keep in mind the ratio and the culture that is best suited. And on that basis we produce and manufacture cheese in India.”
He also talks about cheese products that are imported by the store-owners. “In our store, we have a variety of cheese options like Mascarpone cheese, Ricotta cheese, goat cheese (mixed with herbs) Mozzarella and Gouda (plain, black peeper, red chili, oregano) among many others. In terms of importing something from international markets, we do import products like yak cheese, Edam cheese, Brie and smoked cheese among others.”
According to a recent Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) report, cheese production is growing approximately at the rate of 15% every year, owing to the rising demand of both imported and homegrown varieties of cheese mainly in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
But every customer is his or her own preferred cheese types. Seema Meena, a Delhi-resident who is a cheese enthusiast, “I specifically prefer Mozzarella cheese over others because it is soft and majorly used and added in pizzas.”
Then there are others who enjoy natural cheese products offered only at those stores in town which specialise in chesse.
Customers also do not mind paying good money just to satiate their hunger for cheese. For instance, a 100gm slice of Swiss cheese might cost you anything upwards of Rs 1,500.
“Every cheese is different in taste and texture, just as the procedure involved in making different kinds of cheese varies. On Goat cheese, with my experience it cannot be lined up for more than five days, as it has limited life and smells pathetic. Nevertheless it tastes different when freshly consumed with red wine. Yet another kind of cheese I usually prefer is the Gouda cheese as it goes well with snacks,” says Kunal Bembi, a regular at city’s various cheese stores.
Talking about cheese, one cannot forget to mention Say Cheese Café situated in Yusuf Sarai in south Delhi. Prateek Sharma frequently visits the this joint. “There are many other food joints and café houses apart from this really happening place, where I have had good experiences with dishes made and garnished with cheese like Feta cheese. If one wants to have a great coating of Feta cheese with spices, as per one’s taste, one should definitely try it with chicken.”
The owner of the Say Cheese Café, Anuj Mehta, says, “Our menu is inspired from simple home-like recipes which are healthy and has no preservatives or synthetic colors. Our products range mushroom-olive, Lebanese wrap, pepper corn and many others like roasted tomatoes and cheese salads and pizzas along with pasta and cheese. Cheeses we use in our products are mainly Mozzarella, processed Cheddar, cheese mayonnaise and cheese slices.”
The present and possible future of cheese in India definitely are both in a way radically different from the past. “I would say cheese consumption has considerably grown over the decades with people becoming more aware of the types and taste of cheese coming into the market. People love to indulge in more and more finger food /fast food these days since schedules are hectic and ordering food has become a necessity for nuclear families where both parents are working. Cheese tends to be the main ingredient in majority of dishes and hence it is here to stay,” adds Mehta.
Yet, the whole cheese craze might be restricted to big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore — appealing only to a certain segment of the society with deep enough pockets.