Cheese is here to stay
Cheese has made its mark in the gourmet food sector. It is one of the best non-meat
sources of protein, says Homai Sagar
It is true that
India is not a traditionally structured cheese nation. It is,
rather, a land of paneer, the "very young
cheese." Paneer is used in every household in India. A
single serving of cottage cheese has 15 grams of protein. The
protein, which is in the form of casein, is slow to digest,
keeping the hunger in check for a long period. The protein and
casein content makes it one of the best non-meat sources of
protein. Cottage cheese is extremely popular among body-builders
and pregnant women.
Cheese is popular among body-builders and pregnant women Photo: MF
But cheese is
very recently making its mark in the gourmet food sector and
the market. The popularity and use of cheese compared to paneer
is less, yet it is remarkable as it is still making lots of
Till one decade
ago, the only indigenous cheese in India was the famous yak
cheese made from yak’s milk replicating Tibetan cheese
(available in Delhi) from Dharamsala. It is highly overrated,
salty without any depth of flavour. Historically, it is said
that cheese came to India with the earliest Dutch settlers, who
sailed up the river Hooghly and set up camp on the river banks
at Chinsurah. There were other European settlers who also came
to the area around the same time. These were the Danes at
Serampore, the French at Chandanagore, the Portuguese at Bandel
and the British at Calcutta.
But today, a
cheese hunt in the region, does not lead to any traces of the
origin of Dutch cheese. However, there is a type of smoked
Portuguese cheese, which is available in the shape of small
roundels, at Kolkata's Sir Stuart Hogg Market (popularly known
as New Market), and referred to as Bandel cheese. Bandel, a tiny
former Portuguese settlement, lies within the Chinsurah
municipality. Early colonial literature also mentions three
types of cheeses, including the Bandel cheese.
varieties of Portuguese cheese are Dacca, Bandal and Surti,
referring, no doubt, to the locations where they originate. The
first two are of the smoked variety, while the third is said to
be salted. The hilly region of Kalimpong is also known for its
special variety of cheese, sold as large balls wrapped in red
cellophane. It may not be quite the same as the world-famous
Cheddar, but aficionados of cheese assert that the product
still appeals to the global palate.
guidelines say that most of us can eat about 1.5 ounces (about
45 gm) of low fat natural cheese per day as one of our three one
cup servings of required dairy food. Some nutritionists suggest
we rethink cheese’s place in the food pyramid. Radha Warrier,
speaking on behalf of the Indian Dietetic Association, favours
treating cheese as a condiment, choosing intensely flavoured
kinds such as parmesan to grate over a salad instead of just
cutting off a chunk and eating it with a cracker.
Rule of thumb,
Warrier says, the higher in fat, the more flavoured the cheese.
As a rule, Warrier says, everyone should try using low fat
ricotta or cottage cheese (our paneer). You will get some
amount of protein without a lot of fat.
All over India
there are pockets of cheese making that match with the best in
the world. Perhaps the most famous is the enterprise by Man
Mohan Malik, a Sikh entrepreneur, who started his cheese
business in 1950, at Paonta Sahib in Himachal Pradesh. In 2006
Malik exported cheese to a quantity of 8,000 tonnes, for a
value of Rs 250 crore, mainly to the USA. There is a slice of
Belgium in a village called Bijwasan on the outskirts of Delhi.
Does that sound incongruous? Well, just walk into the Flanders
Dairy Company in Bijwasan, take a deep breath and get a whiff of
the air inside, thick with the tangy smell of whey.
Taste the cheeses made by the
Benedictine monks in Bangalore. The chief cheese-maker here is
Friar K.L. Michael, who happens to be especially proud of
Vallombrosa, his own brand of water buffalo cheese. He and his
team of Benedictines handcraft six kinds of cheese —
mozzarella, burrata, ricotta, mascarpone, bocconcini and
caciotta — hot favourites with restaurants across Bangalore.
Yes, cheese has come of age in India to stay as a major food
delicacy. — MF