Life Beyond Cottage Cheese - A Primer From FoodHall
We believe you have evolved beyond paneer or cottage cheese.
In the post-colonial age, when masala replaced everything good and true, nice cheese from the 1950s like Polson’s gave way to no cheese at all worth discussing. Paneer was the cottage cheese staple. It got cut into cubes and of course, got turned into paneer butter masala to remove any traces of the taste of cheese.
And then Amul cheese cubes and Britannia cheese slices made their way into everyone’s hearts and for years we made cheese platters with Amul cubes, Britannia slices and globs of paneer into which we stuck toothpicks with splinters to be posh.
And now, there are cheese sommeliers (or maitres de fromages, or the dude behind the counter or whatever they call that individual who sells you cheese) at several places. So we went to Foodhall at the 1 MG Mall and spoke to Swati Aggarwal. She is their Food Strategist. (See?)
"There is quite a wide range of international cheese that is available in India," Swasti Aggarwal told Explocity. She rapped the names of all the cheese on sale in her store. “Camembert, Brie, Taleggio, Gouda, Cheddar, Double Gloucester, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, Blue cheese, Ricotta, Goat cheese and more.”
She explained that Indian cheese too is growing in variety and popularity. “Kalari. Bandel. Chhena. Chhurpi.”
Also homegrown cheese like fresh mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone, scamorza and cheddar. Impero, Zanetti, Lemnos... Dairy Kraft, Goluka farms and Elephtheria are also artisanal cheese makers who are becoming more popular."
Aggarwal is something of a cheese aficionado. Clearly she knows a great deal about it and she explained the manufacturing of cheese to us at length. And you probably know that cheese is manufactured in a variety of ways other than how paneer, or Indian cottage cheese is made, in those (distinctly anatomical) pouches that hang suggestively in shops.
"Cheese making is a science," she explained, "the rennet used and the bacteria used and at what temperature decides the kind of cheese as well as how it is matured. Mozzarella is stretched in boiling water and feta is salted after cooking and then matured. Blue cheese has a special bacteria and yeast introduced to give it the pungent blue taste and flavour."
Cheese is often categorised based on several different parameters. These include the duration or time over which the cheese is aged, the different ways it is made, fat content etc. But perhaps the most common method that is used is categorising cheese based on the moisture content or the texture and firmness of it. The moisture content is what determines the hardness of the cheese.
According to Aggarwal, the difference between hard and soft cheese is called affinage or maturation. "Harder cheese is matured for longer than soft cheese or fresh cheese," she says. "Parmesan for example is ripened for 10 months plus and feta can be ready within weeks after initial making."
And then there’s the wine and cheese pairing. And the recent advancements in cheese availability has vastly improved book launches in India, where in the interest of imitating all that’s foreign, book launch wine-and-cheese events were based on Amul cubes and Golconda Ruby (tasted like Rooh Afza which they somehow managed to ferment).
Some of the common pairings popular today include:
Camembert with Champagne
Brie with Chardonnay
Taleggio with Pinot Blanc
Gouda with Merlot
Cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon
Parmesan with Chianti
Double Gloucester with Zinfandel
Gruyere with Sauvignon Blanc
Gorgonzola with Port
Blue cheese with Riesling
Ricotta with Pinot Grigio
Mozzarella with Sauvignon Blanc
Goat cheese with Chenin Blanc
And those of us who are so intimidated by the cheese platter, or cheese cart, that we pretend not to like cheese, here is a video that dishes the how-to of this increasingly social peer pressure requirement.