Italian cheese, sold in the US, made in India
Shoppers in American supermarkets may not know, but there is a big chance that the Italian cheese they put in their trolleys will be Indian made.
The story begins in Paonta Sahib, Himachal Pradesh where Man Mohan Malik set up Himalya International Limited in 1995 to export vegetables.
The idea of cheese struck Malik, chairman and managing director of the company, now a major supplier of breaded mushrooms and baby potatoes to the US, many years later at a food exhibition in Germany.
Says Malik: "I saw an Italian stall promoting water-buffalo-milk-cheese as a delicacy. Once I saw that the water buffaloes on the promo pictures were just the same as the ordinary Indian buffaloes (70 per cent of the world's buffalo population lives in India), I knew what I had to do. I visited almost every mozzarella plant in Italy and absorbed everything I saw... "
Back in India, Malik started producing mozzarella cheese, but things weren't so easy because he wasn't familiar with Italian cheese. That was when Raffaele Cioffi came into the picture.
Malik contacted Cioffi, a fifth-generation cheese-maker from the coast of Sorrento who had been a consultant for cheese producers in Bulgaria and Russia, and invited him to Paonta Sahib.
In the beginning, the American customers complained that the buffalo cheese was contaminated with cow milk. "This is because in India milk is just milk, whether it comes from a buffalo or from a cow," says Malik.
Malik ordered special equipment from Germany to trace impurities, and asked Cioffi to oversee the entire process from milking the buffaloes to crafting the cheese. He says: "Raffaele and I started to monitor the farmers. We gave them exclusive contracts on the condition that they would not mix the milk. In the 50 farms we have contracted, we have our own staff to explain to the farmers the hygienic procedures in order to meet our US client's requirements."