Dairy plays a significant part in numerous aspects of Indian society, including cuisine, religion, culture, and the economy. India has the world's largest dairy herd with over 300 million bovines, producing over 187 million tons of milk. India is first among all countries in both production and consumption of milk. Most of the milk is domestically consumed, though a small fraction is also exported. Indian cuisine, in particular North Indian cuisine, features a number of dairy products like paneer, while South Indian cuisine uses more yogurts and milk. Milk and dairy products play a part in Hindu religious practice and legend.
Dairy production in the Indian subcontinent has historical roots that go back 8,000 years to the domestication of zebu cattle. Dairy products, especially milk, were consumed on the subcontinent at least from the Vedic period. In the mid-to-late 20th century, Operation Flood transformed the Indian dairy industry into the world's largest. Previously, milk production in India occurred mainly on household farms.
The economic impact of the dairy industry in India is substantial. Most of the milk produced comes from buffalo; cow milk is a close second, and goat milk is a distant third. A large variety of dairy products are produced in India. Dairy imports into India are negligible and subject to tariffs. The domestic industry is regulated by government agencies such as the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying, and Fisheries; the National Dairy Development Board; and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.
Sunil Bihu’s cheese-making venture started almost three decades back when he decided to follow his passion and learned how to make cheese in Flanders, Belgium. From there to Italy to finally India, Bihu picked up the skills necessary to make cheese the traditional and authentic way. Flanders Dairy promises cheese made using simple and natural ingredients as well as products that are 100 percent vegetarian. Their most popular cheese includes Gouda, goat cheese, Mozzarella, Mascarpone, Ricotta, Burrata, and more.
This is a storied cheese. Made by Benedictine monks in a seminary in Bengaluru, this artisanal cheese is the output of seven people. Led by Father K L Michael who learned cheese making in Rome, the Vallambrosa team makes up to 100 kgs of Italian cheese a day. Soft cheeses with fresh buffalo milk are their specialty and the creamy burrata is their greatest hit.
A brainchild of Mumbai-based animal lover Shasvathi Siva, Cowvathi offers cruelty and dairy-free alternatives to milk-based cheese. And just because it’s vegan, it need not be boring. Cowvathi's menu has vegan mozzarella and cheddar as well as block cheese in chili, pepper, and garlic basil options. There is also a pav bhaji flavor for those who are adventurous.
Cheese connoisseurs will swear by La Ferme cheese, manufactured at Auroville in Puducherry. Starting back in 1988, La Ferme’s cheese is all handcrafted and largely organic (they use windmills and biogas during the manufacturing process). La Ferme also promises no preservatives, artificial coloring, or flavors in its products. Their fresh cheese includes Mozzarella, Feta, and Ricotta while the seasoned ones include Lofabu (2-3-month-old cheese with a mild nutty flavor), Cheddar, Blue D’Auroville (soft cheese with a blue mould covering), Gorgonzola (blue-veined creamy cheese) and Parmesan.
One of the earlier artisanal cheesemakers, this brand was started in 1988 as an Auroville enterprise. Combining Indian weather conditions and Western cheesemaking traditions and with milk sourced from their own dairy, this brand focuses on sustainability, hygiene, and handcrafted cheeses. Made with whole cow's milk, vegetarian enzymes, and preservative-free La Ferme has an interesting range. These feature traditional fresh cheeses like ricotta and feta as well as a range of seasoned cheeses like the Jeera Lofabu (inspired by the Dutch Gouda), an auroblochon (resembling a young parmesan), as well as a creamy goat cheese from the Auroville goat farm.
This cheese brand is an initiative of Maharashtra-based Parag Milk Foods. Starting in 2009, their portfolio features a range of cheese products in innovative flavour combinations. Among their hits are the Go Queso Mexican cheese sauce, green chutney cheese slices, and squeezy cheese tubes in chocolate cheese and tomato salsa flavours.
Kodai Cheese (manufactured at Kodai Dairy Farm in Kodaikanal) produces over 20 varieties of superb cheese – Ricotta, Gruyere, Mozzarella, Gouda, and Mascarpone are just a few of them. Although Kodai Cheese is available at retail stores across the city, you can also call them and have them courier your preferences to you (minimum order 1 Kg).
While The Altitude Store in Meher Chand Market stocks many other cheese brands, they also have a creamery and manufacture some fantastic varieties like Bree, Crème Fresh, and Goat Cheese. Their production depends upon whether they are able to source enough organic milk so they sometimes run low on stock. It’s best to call and check before dropping by their store.
'Made by a Dutchman, according to Dutch traditions' is how these guys describe themselves. Their farm is located in the mountains of Kashmir, and Chris Zandee, the aforementioned Dutchman is the man behind this brand. Gouda and Cheddar are their specialties; the former comes in several flavours like fenugreek, black pepper, walnut, chili, and more. You can also choose the age of the Gouda you are picking – from a softer and milder young Gouda (3-8 weeks) to a harder and stronger one (12 months) and everything in between.
If you are up for trying new varieties, they also make a local cheese called Kalari. Nicknamed the Mozzarella of Kashmir, this one is a dense cheese that is fried and salted before eating.
Apart from several other brands of organic, handcrafted cheese, Organic German Bakeshop in Paharganj also stocks a variety made in Manali by an Italian cheese farmer. There are a bunch of different cheeses you can find here – Gouda (the Dutch cheese in pepper, chili, and herbs flavour), Emmental (medium-hard Swiss cheese), Mozzarella (made from buffalo’s milk), and Asiago (6-month-old Italian cheese).
If you are a true-blue turophile (a cheese connoisseur), then the regular kinds of cheese just won’t please you. These artisanal cheeses are fine for a late-night snack and melt quickly in your mouth. Most of them are processed and packaged outside the city, but if you look in the right places you are sure to find something that suits your tastes.