The rise of India’s artisanal cheesemakers
An artisanal-minded generation in the country is taking the caseiculture movement to the next level by handmaking international cheeses varieties alongside signature flavours that complement the Indian palette.
With an unwavering dedication to showcasing India’s unique topography, advanced techniques, and locally-sourced ingredients, a growing number of artisanal cheese producers are creating everything from classics like sharp-tasting cheddar and fresh mozzarella to specialities like Malabar pepper jack and even paan-flavoured soft-ripened cheeses. The only thing on their menu is quality artisanal cheese produced in small batches, and part of the experience is knowing they are handcrafted with passion in India.
ARTISANAL CHEESE STRAIGHT FROM THE FARM
Shalini Futnani, who co-founded Chennai’s The Farm with her husband Arul Futnani sums up her approach this way: “We started a restaurant in 2009 and started making cheese in 2014. This was a natural progression, as a dairy farm we wanted to make cheese that we could serve in our restaurant and also retail—following our philosophy of making everything from scratch, in-house,” says Futnani.
Located in the small hamlet of Semmancheri village in Chennai, The Farm is one of the few farmstead, artisanal cheese makers in the country who raise their bovines on the farm. “Among the popular families of cheese, we produce a French-originated velvety white 1/277 Bloomy Rind in which the rind or outside layer is using a combination of mold, Mozzarella di Bufala which are stringy and salted knots of Southern Italian mozzarella and exclusive experimental cheeses like Ciottolo which is naturally aged balls of mozzarella,” explains Futani.
Another anchor of the ‘farm-to-table’ cheesemaking scene is Darima Farms in Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand—a farm founded by Arvind Chawla and Saurabh Vinayak in May 2017 which produces cheese using organic milk and herbs. Besides classics like cheddar, parmesan and gouda, they make innovative versions like Alpine Gruyere which is a geography-inspired take on Swiss Gruyere, boasting a nutty, sweet flavour profile. Another special is the Chilli bomb which is a spice-rubbed young cheese made using red chilis from Rajasthan.
GIVING EUROPEAN CHEESE A RUN FOR ITS MONEY
In Mumbai’s Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, The Spotted Cow Fromagerie run by brothers Prateeksh and Agnay Mehra produces Northern French cheeses that can compete on the international stage. “We started with Brie and Camambe and then moved to fresh cheeses, which is again a French-style cheese called Fromage Blanc in four different flavours—classic Truffle, Bosa-style garlic and herbs, zadar and a goat’s cheese, which is called a Chev. We also do two semi-hard kinds of cheese which is the Tomme, which is based on a French variety of semihard cheese called Tomme de Savoie. Ours is called Tomme de Bombay because of the locality where we make it. In 2019 we started with the classic Italian cheeses which are the Buffalo mozzarella, bocconcini, burrata, and truffle burrata. And we also do Amentala-style cheese which is called a Baby Swiss,” explains Prateeksh Mehra.
“An artisanal brie would last you around 21 days, while the imported one would be around a year. When you cut into a brie, has to have a bit of ooze to it, has to have that nice softness to it and quite a complexity on the palate, while the imported ones don’t retain the same flavour profile or textures,” says Mehra, who believes the growing demand and quality production can boost India’s position on the global map.
OPPORTUNITIES TO CHEDDAR YOUR SKILLS
For Dhvani Desai, a pioneer in artisan cheese and founder of Casa Del Cheese in Mumbai, cheesemaking began as a passion project at home, kickstarting a journey that led to running her own artisanal cheese business for 8 years and then starting her own cheese school during the pandemic. “I began making cheese in 2011 and quit my job in 2013 to focus on making cheese full-time while doing some freelance work on the side. I sold my first cheese in Bandra Farmers Market and there was no looking back from there for me,” says Desai. “We made unique varieties like Casa Del Cheese which included Gold dust (butter cheese coated with chamomile flowers), White forest (ash-coated shitake mushroom brie cheese), and a paan-flavoured soft-ripened cheese, with walnuts,” she says emphasizing on the importance of creating opportunities for people to learn this underrated craft. Today, Casa del Cheese is a cheesemaking school with a mission to educate people about the artisanal cheese industry across India and neighbouring regions.