Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality. It is a glorious ingredient that people have been experimenting with, making since centuries. Traditionally, natural and artisanal cheeses are made using simple key ingredients like milk, cultures, rennet and salt which result in multiple permutations and combinations of cheese.
India is the largest producer of milk in the world but we do not make or consume as much cheese. According to statista.com cheese in India is expected to grow annually by 7.6% and is currently at a revenue of US$1,302m (2020). The majority of this figure is the burgeoning processed cheese sector but it also includes the artisanal cheese sector which is growing year on year.
Cheesemakers in the country can be divided by the type of cheese they make. From processed and semi- processed cheese to artisanal and artisanal & natural cheese. Indian cheesemakers make indigenous Indian cheese as well European style cheese. We interviewed three natural and artisanal cheesemakers that have made wavelengths in the Indian cheese world. We asked them what challenges they have faced in terms of cheese making and selling with examples on how to overcome such hurdles.
Mausam Narang started her micro creamery, Eleftheria Cheese, in 2015 in Mumbai and is now making European cheese classics like Burrata, Fior di Latte (Cow milk Mozzarella), Halloumi, Pepper Garlic Ball (A Belper Knolle style cheese) and a Brunost style cheese.
Arul Futnani and Shalini Philip have had a buffalo farm in Semancheri, Chennai, called The Farm since 1974 and they started their cheese making in 2014. They make Mozzarella, Bocconcinni, Smoked Mozzarella, Ricotta, Tomme de Semancheri, Buff Tomme, Buffalo 1974, Bloomy rind 1-277, Feta style and Creme Fraiche.
Brothers Prateeksh and Agnay Mehra started The Spotted Cow Fromagerie in 2014 in Mumbai and make Bombrie, Truffle Bombrie, Camembay, Robiola, Buffalo milk Mozzarella, Burrata, Boccocini and a variety of fresh cheeses.
What is your view on the current Indian cheese scene? Agnay – Nowadays people are really appreciating cheese as long it’s of good quality and taste. They are open to trying out different things in the market.
Arul – Folk are more aware about cheese of late are interested to try out new varieties. People are really understanding the differences between processed, industrially produced and artisan cheeses.
Mausam – These are exciting times as people are well travelled, especially in the metros, and have an appreciation for consistently good quality artisanal produce and products.
What are the challenges you face in material procurement and cheese making?Agnay – Consistency of milk has been a major challenge but over the years we have trained our local suppliers with techniques and educated them on ways to maintain good quality. Temperature of Mumbai and lack of skilled labour have been issues in cheese making.
Arul – Sourcing appropriate cultures in smaller quantities in India has been impossible.Also procuring cheese moulds, cheese presses, smaller vats and other basic equipment have been difficult and not economical and have had to be brought by someone travelling from abroad.Mausam – Good quality milk is sadly still a challenge due to poor cold chain logistics and so has lack of knowledge and awareness about what constitutes good quality milk for cheese making. Other issues getting cheese making supplies and accessories in India, training staff and the humid Mumbai weather.
What are the challenges you face in selling cheese in India?
Agnay– The biggest challenge is the people’s perception of imported cheeses being better than the Indian ones. General awareness of cheeses and market being price-sensitive are other major concerns. Arul – Lack of cold chain in transport and logistics is the biggest problem. Mausam – Most purchase managers in 5 star hotels are used to imported produce with a longish shelf life and as and convincing them to use our preservative free, shelf life restricted cheeses can be a challenge. The idea of Mozzarella for a lot of restaurants still is the block mozzarella or low moisture flavourless pizza cheese, and so our brined high moisture real Mozzarella is still not used in most pizzerias, making it difficult for cheesemakers like us to compete with the price points in comparison to non-urban commercial cheese factories and imported cheeses.
What solutions have you implemented in the past to overcome your problems?
Agnay – Educating our raw material suppliers, personally going and visiting farms and informing them about the importance of feed and antibiotics is the way to go. Arul – We have had to do Jugaad to our equipment to make it work like a Vat, a pasteuriser and use it for moulding. We have also innovatively used techniques to have a controlled environment to be able to age cheese. Mausam – Honestly, I have been very fortunate to have a strong and loyal customer base in the city, ever since I started my creamery. These are interesting times as a lot of chefs helming some of the finest stand-alone restaurants in the city demand top quality and consistency and they appreciate our cheeses and we love collaborating with such pioneers. We supply the freshest possible cheese to all our clients and ensure the swiftest turnaround time. So we try and deliver the very next day after we receive an order. Unlike a lot of the imports that sits in godowns for months, this gives us an edge. Since we are urban cheesemakers, it’s made in the city, so our deliveries are very quick. We also do not want our clients to hoard a lot of stock and hence most of our cheeses are made to order.
What tips can you give to a newbie cheesemaker?
Agnay – Be patient, try various raw material suppliers and techniques till you find one that suits you the best.Arul – I think to be an artisanal cheese maker in India you need to do it for the love of it. It is difficult, so resilience and the capacity for Jugaad are important.Mausam – Keep at it, persistence is key!
To conclude, whatever the difficulties and challenges one may face while making cheese in India, with patience, persistence and precision one can find a way to be a successful cheesemaker!
(The author is a turophile. She likes making, curating, writing, learning, educating and obsessing over cheese)
Story Credit: FnB News.