Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Nestled in the misty Nilgiri Hills of Coonoor, Acres Wild is a charming 22-acre organic farm and B&B that offers in-house guests beginner’s classes in cheesemaking. The basic, two-day course involves learning to make soft and hard cheese (there are advanced classes too) and tasting a spread of the farm’s produce. The rooms, named after Halloumi, Cheddar, and Colby cheese, are cosy, the meals are delicious, and the owners, Tina and Mansoor, are great company (94432 32 621; www.acres-wild.com; ₹5,000 for two-day course, open only for house guests; cottages from ₹3,000 during off-season, including breakfast; cheese available for sale at Baker’s Junction and Tulsi Mall, Coonoor).
Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Cinnabar, a B&B in Kodaikanal, cherishes farm-to-table living and encourages its guests to get their hands dirty. They offer cheesemaking and bread-making workshops, sessions on vegetable harvesting, and sell bottles of scrumptious fruit preserves. Cheesemaking courses range from day-long sessions for amateurs to longer classes for small-scale and large-scale cheese production. Days begin with lessons on the farm and end with dinner around the community table (98421 45220; www.cinnabar.in; prices for cheesemaking workshops vary; doubles ₹6,000, including breakfast and dinner).
Following the tenets of earth-friendly Auroville, La Ferme’s cheese operation near Pondicherry uses milk from nearby villages, and energy produced by biogas and wind-mills for their pasteurisation process. Lovers of matured dairy are welcome to drop by La Ferme to see the wheels of chilli-flecked gouda and hunks of Parmesan and Cheddar that line the storeroom. Their blue d’Auroville, lofabu, and feta are recommended (0413-622212; www.auroville.org/contents/112; call in advance for a short walkabout of the place; cheese available at Nilgiris Supermarket in Pondicherry).
Mango Hill’s decor blends French and Indian aesthetic, and its cheesemakers use French ferments and Indian cow’s milk to make a lush variety of cheese. Try their Borsalino (a kind of herby cream cheese) with crackers or toast, the unpasteurised farmer’s cheese with salad, and their soft, springy mozzarella (0413-2655491/92; www.hotel-mangohill-pondicherry.com).
For a glimpse into Sikkim’s pantry, spend a few hours browsing through Gangtok’s Lal Market. The women selling nettles, spices, and all manner of fermented pastes, are always chatty, and happy to explain how the produce is used in their own kitchen. It’s a great place to stock up on pickles, and cheese. Look out for the leaf-wrapped cultured yak butter, and the churpi (both young and aged).
Pahalgam, Jammu & Kashmir
Dutchman Chris Zandee makes natural artisan cheese with milk sourced from the Gujjars, semi-nomadic pastoralists who rear dairy cattle in the mountains around Pahalgam. His Cheddar and Gouda are very good and widely available around Manali, Srinagar, Leh, and Delhi (himalayancheese.com; available at a number of stores including Apricot Store and Open Hand Café in Leh, Pick and Choose and Sun Fresh Supermarket in Srinagar, and Altitude Store in Delhi).
A few minutes from Auroville, Sun Farm is a cheery little operation that makes feta, Cheddar, tomme fraiche, mozzarella, and Cantal, a kind of semi-hard French cheese that dates back to the Gauls. Their cheese is available in Pondicherry, but those interested are welcome to visit the farm, meet the cows, and get a quick tour of the cheese storeroom (95858 97730, 0413- 2623588; www.thesunfarm.com; visiting hours Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-12 p.m.; cheese available at Nilgiris Supermarket in Pondicherry).
Maia Cheese is one of palm-fringed Palolem’s lesser known secrets. Run by one-time pianist Maia Donadze, the fromagerie started off a few years ago with batches of delicious feta, but now has a menu that also includes fresh mozzarella, mascarpone, ricotta, Parmesan, and Cheddar (99709 46911; maia-cheese.com).
The walls of the ABC Farms store are lined with cultured goodies. There’s feta soaked in herbs and olive oil, tubs of bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls), and sealed packets of Boursin flecked with chilli flakes. The family-run business dates back to the 1970s and supplies cheese to numerous restaurants across the country. ABC’s range includes the basics (their goat’s cheese is quite good) as well as more experimental creations that involve whisky, coffee, and cranberries. It’ll make a kitchen geek go weak in the knees, and leave them smiling like the cow on the fromagerie’s logo (020-2688 0888; www.facebook.com/AbcFarmsPvtLtd; daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m.).
Appeared in the February 2015 issue as “Cheese To Please”.
A traditional cheese made by Kashmir’s Gujjars, kalari’s soft but stretchy texture has earned it the nickname “Kashmiri mozzarella”. The dense, white cheese is generally pan-fried on a tawa like a paratha (no atta, though), so it browns on the outside and is gooey and stringy within. It’s served with chilli powder and lashes of lime. Street food stalls also serve kalari kulchas with chhole.
It is a kind of yak cheese consumed in Himalayan regions such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, and loftier parts of the Northeast. The chewy cheese, almost like an eraser in texture, has a sour tang and is generally added to potato momos and broths in the winter months, when fresh herbs are hard to come by. Churpi is more readily available in rural areas and is generally made at home so it will take some asking around to get the real thing. The blocks of yak cheese (tastes vaguely like Emmental) commonly sold in stores in Manali, Leh, and Shillong are usually not churpi.
A reminder of Bengal’s Portuguese antecedents, Bandel is a soft cheese with a deliciously smoky character. It is available in only two Kolkata stores—S. Panja’s and Johnson’s—located a few doors from each other in New Market. It makes for a great food souvenir, since it doesn’t spoil easily.