Indian cheese could once be summed up in a single four-letter word. Amul. Cubed or canned (and now sliced) that’s all there was. The great news is that there is so much to write about Indian cheeses now that a single story cannot do justice to it. Besides the entry of multiple Indian and foreign brands in the processed cheese segment, naturally crafted cheeses are coming centre-stage, prompted by new, discerning customers.
Some are already known, but mostly to the cognoscenti thanks to limited production and distribution. Bollywood scion Mansoor Khan’s organic offerings from Wild Acres in Conoor and the Kodai Dairy’s impressive array of hard and soft Nilgiricheeses from parmesan to feta are among those. Those near big cities, such as Flanders Dairy andABC Farms have been wowing Delhiwallas and Pune-ites with particularly their fresh cheeses, taking India whey beyond paneer.
Even foreigners are eyeing the Indian market-and vice versa. If an Italian called Giuseppe Mozzillo and two Indians set up Exito Gourmet in Chandigarh, which makes and markets mozzarella and seven other cheeses under the Impero label, then Manmohan Malik’s Himalaya International in Paonta, Himachal Pradesh, exports totally vegetarian buffalo mozzarella and ricotta to the US to be sold under the name Bufflabella.
Natural cheeses, so called because they ‘mature’ when exposed to air, are supposedly an acquired taste, which is why companies were chary of marketing even cheddar in India. That Amul now gets Sikkim Dairy Products to make its gouda cheese for the rest of India shows the way Indian tastes are headed. The shift towards natural cheeses has also spurred a renewed interest in indigenous Indian cheeses, from those traditionally made in the Himalayas to those left in India as part of a colonial legacy…
Veg & Non-veg Cheese
Cheese, traditionally, is not vegetarian, and that red dot on many brands sold in India now underlines that little-known fact. Rennet, derived from an enzyme called rennin, comes from the stomach lining of calves and is used to thicken milk into cheese. New cheese-making processes-and the demands of emerging markets like India-have, however, resulted in many more truly vegetarian cheeses.
Without red or green dots, the trick is to look for key words, particularly in imported cheese labels. Cheeses marked ‘traditional’ abroad signify animal-extracted rennet is used. If the enzyme is obtained from fungus or yeast, the label says ‘microbial’. If not either of those, the chances are cheese has been made from plant extracts (from thistles and nettles) and genetically-engineered, non-animal rennet.