THE INDIAN CHEESE SPREAD
Mozzarella and parmesan, made in India — from villages in Haryana to a monastery in Bangalore
When a few months ago, Italian chef Giovanni Leopardi agreed to supervise the kitchen at The Med, the new restaurant at Radisson, Delhi, he didn't worry about who was going to supply the cheese. He knew he could bank on the cow belt of India.
Leopardi sources most of his mozzarella, smoked scamorza, gouda and mascarpone from Flanders, a cottage factory tucked away in Bijwasan village, Haryana. Here, surrounded by miles of open green fields, owner Sunil Bhu works overtime to produce 300 kilos of cheese a day. This is also where Leopardi and Bhu put their heads together to create burata, a delicacy of south Italy. Burata is a hard white ball of cheese, filled with more buttery cheese; slice it into two halves and it resembles a slice of hard-boiled egg. A slice of south Italy, made in Haryana.
Apart from Flanders, Haryana is home to Umesh Batra's Poshtik Milk Products at Daulatpur village in Hissar and Exito Gourmet in Chandigarh, set up by a 27-year-old Italian, Giuseppe Mozzillo, and his Indian partner Puneet Gupta. Down south, a creamery in Auroville near Pondicherry and a monastery in Ramamurthi Nagar, Bangalore, are rolling out wheels of parmesan, mozzarella, gouda and edam and even flavouring them with cumin, coriander and onion.
Bhu supplies cheese to hotel chains and restaurants in Delhi. He claims his cheese compares with the world's best. "The market is tough. But our mascarpone and mozzarella compete with original Italian brands," he says.
Batra, a vet and a nutritionist, began making the straw-coloured parmesan and the soft and crumbly feta 13 years ago when pizza chains first marched into India. Last year, he set up a stall called Passion Cheese at the popular Delhi mall, Select Citywalk. Here, you can sample and then buy your favourite cheese. At Rs 255 for 200 g, parmesan is the costliest—and for good reason it would seem. "We store it below 10 degrees Celsius for over 18 months before the cheese acquires the texture and the taste," says Batra. Onion and coriander feta and feta with whole olives cost Rs 250 for 200 g and smoked cheddar is priced at Rs 165 for 200 g. "The market for cheese in north India is a big one and Delhi has many buyers of local cheese," he says.