Dairy Dons: Three Artisanal Indian Cheese Brands You Should Taste
Ever since food delivery websites began selling gourmet items, cheese aficionados have had less reason to buy the imported stuff. Sites such as Foodesto, Big Basket and Yummade have facilitated the passage of terrific artisanal cheeses, mostly of them made in south India, to Mumbai. Many cheese fiends are now familiar with Pondicherry brands such as La Ferme and Mango Hill but there’s a whole bunch of other cheesemakers out there, some based in this city. We picked three artisanal labels worth adding to your next grocery list.
Casa Del Cheese
Who’s behind it: The careers of most cheesemakers in Mumbai have followed a similar narrative. Their passion for the product dominated their love for their day jobs, they were driven to learn cheesemaking on their own and, eventually, they quit to handle milk and curds full-time. Dhvani Desai of Casa Del Cheese, Prateeksh and Agnay Mehra of The Spotted Cow Fromagerie, and Mausam Jotwani of Eleftheria (see below) share more or less the same story. Desai left her job as business journalist to start Casa Del Cheese in 2013. As a journalist, she would routinely meet entrepreneurs and her conversations with them convinced her to launch her own business. She began seriously tinkering with cheesemaking in 2009, acquiring the knowledge from books and videos. In December 2013, just a month after Casa Del Cheese was born, she spent a week in Kutch making cheese from cow and camel milk with Austrian cheesemaker Robert Paget.
What does it make: Desai procures cow milk from farms in Satara to make feta, Saint-Marcellin, the occasional Gouda and Snowcake, a cheese she has developed that resembles chevre in texture. The Snowcake is a tasty snow-white cheese that’s slightly denser than ordinary chevre. It’s enlivened by a topping of lightly pungent dried chilli. The Saint-Marcellin, on the other hand, has the creamy texture of Camembert but a milder taste.
Where to get it: Casa Del Cheese products are available on Yummade, ShopHop and All Things Organic and via the app Couch Tomato. Desai also supplies to the restaurants Birdsong, Kipos and The Village Shop in Bandra and makes bagels using her cheeses under the brand Bagel Bar, which occasionally participates in shopping pop-ups and food markets across the city. For updates, visit the Facebook page.
How much does it cost: Prices per 100 grams – Snowcake Rs200, Gouda Rs250, feta Rs350, St Marcellin Rs320. Rates vary across websites.
Who’s behind it: One of the best cheeses made in the country is surprisingly little-known. Caroselle has been around since the 1990s, when it was founded by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, an Italian-American who settled near Kodaikanal to practice the teachings of Aurobindo. Their cheeses are made by a Dutchman Hanneke Tubben-Kroon, who joined the company a little over five years ago. Until then, they were made by staff who had been trained in the process by one of Norelli-Bachelet’s students, who knew how to make cheese. All the products are made by hand in small batches. If Caroselle is relatively unknown here, it’s because they have so far only supplied hotels and markets in south India. A year ago, they began selling cheeses to caterers in Mumbai.
What does it make: Parmesan, cheddar, Montasio, Edam, feta, two kinds of Gouda (plain and pepper) and a Camembert-style cheese made of milk procured from their own Swati Pant Dairy in Petuparai village, which has around 50 cows. The cheeses are aged in their own cellar, said Patricia Heidt, a retired professor of nursing from the US, who handles sales and marketing at the company. The parmesan, for instance, is aged for a year and a half. Their plain Gouda and Camembert stand out for being close to the European cheeses. The Gouda has a pliant texture and sumptuously buttery flavour. It’s astonishing that an Indian dairy has produced a Camembert with such a rich flavour. The cheese is not as miasmal as good French Camemberts so those who’re bothered by strong smells will be pleased it doesn’t stink up the fridge. But even aficionados, for whom the heavy scent of ripe dairy is akin to perfume, will admit their camembert is special.
Where to get it: Caroselle sells cheeses at food markets. For updates on their activities, visit the Facebook page. You can also sample them at Kala Ghoda Café, Bharthania Building, A Block, 10 Ropewalk Street, opposite Trishna, Kala Ghoda. Tel: 022 2265 0965.
How much does it cost: Prices per 200 grams – Edam Rs272, feta Rs272, Gouda Rs272, young cheddar Rs324, Montasio Rs336, Camembert-style Rs357, Parmesan Rs421.
Who’s behind it: Like Desai, Mausam Jotwani had a regular job before the call of cheese grew too strong to ignore. She quit her post at management consulting firm Capgemini last year to focus on her own company full-time. For a year before she resigned, she had been making cheeses on weekends at her home in Mulund and selling them at shopping and food markets. The name of her brand Eleftheria means ‘freedom’ in Greek. She learned the ropes reading books, watching YouTube videos and following the advice of her mentor, cheesemaker Mukund Naidu in Bangalore. In October 2015, Jotwani started a creamery or cheese studio in Bhandup. It was a relief for her family. “I had two refrigerators in my room that were converted to cheese caves,” she said. “My brother refused to enter the room because it used to smell so much. I was also using my mum’s kitchen to make cheese. So it was horrifying for everyone.”
What does it make: Fromage blanc (soft, spreadable cheeses) in three flavours as well as mozzarella and burrata from milk Jotwani gets from a farm in Igatpuri. Those who are new to artisanal cheeses will find the fromage blanc quite accessible. It has a smooth texture and comes in flavours that are hard not to like: garlic and parsley, chives and pepper and herbs and extra virgin olive oil.
Where to get it: Eleftheria cheeses are sold online on Yummade and at Foodhall, Palladium Mall, Level 3, High Street Phoenix, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 3026 4581. The brand also participates in shopping markets. For updates, visit the Facebook page.
How much: Rs300 per 150 grams tub of the fromage blanc. Jotwani also home delivers for orders over Rs1,000.