Kya cheez, cut piece…Worry not! We will not be discussing Shakti Kapoor or his villainous roles. We are here to explore more about soft, creamy, flaky, sometimes salty but very delicious cheese.
When we talk about cheese the places that come to mind are Switzerland, France, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Middle Eastern countries & North America. In India we are mostly familiar with cottage cheese/paneer, chhena or khoya. Our idea of cheese is limited to cheese spreads or slices processed and marketed commercially. Most of the exotic varieties like Ricotta, Cheddar, Gouda, Feta or Mozzarella are imported from abroad.
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India has its very own niche varieties of local cheeses made from cow, buffalo, yak and goat’s milk. There’s a little town near Howrah Station in Kolkata called Bandel. It was established by the Portuguese settlers and they brought with them a special variety of smoked cheese that got famous as the town’s popularity grew. Bandel cheese is made by separating curd from whey by using lemon juice. It has a dry, crumbly and soft texture similar to ricotta. The smoky flavor is imparted by molding it, then draining excess water in small perforated pots and smoking it slowly over wood. There are two varieties available the white Bandel cheese and the brown smoked one. The white variety is unripe and goes well with fruits & deserts. The brown one is salted and can be sprinkled over salads or risotto.
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The next in line is Kalari which comes from Udhampur district in Jammu. It is a traditional variety of cheese made by the women folk living in the hilly region. It is a ripened cheese that has a dense texture. Unlike Bandel,it is salted at the time of serving. One litre of milk yields about 100-120 grams of Kalari cheese. It is made by coagulating fresh milk with lemon juice or sour whey. Then it is left to dry over pine leaves that absorb excessive water content and protect the cheese from bacteria & fungus. After this it is aged in small baskets that are stored in a cool place.
Kalimpong cheese is an exclusive variety of non-pasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a smooth rind and crumbly interior. It derives its name from its place of origin Kalimpong, a hill station in West Bengal. It takes a few months to ripen when stored in a cool climate. The color changes and mould develops on the rind, which is slightly yellow. The unripe cheese has an edible rind, slightly acidic flavor similar to that of rustic Welsh Caerphilly cheese. Like the welsh variety this one also lacks a strong unpleasant smell.
Surat in Gujarat produces Surti paneer that is made with the milk of water buffalo by adding crude rennet (obtained from the stomach of a young goat). It is now produced in very small batches by draining the curd and ripening it in whey for 12-36 hours. It has a smooth texture and a slightly salty, acidic flavor. It is a semi hard, unripe variety of cheese with less than 40% water content.
In Darjeeling, a soft cheese wrapped in banana leaves and kept in bamboo basket is made using sour butter milk. It is called Shergum and has a shelf life of 2 weeks. It is unsalted like home made paneer and is drained using a cloth
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