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Move over Gouda, ‘Konark’ is here

Indian cheesemakers are no longer recreating Gouda or cheddar. They are focusing on terroir with local flavours

Provenance and terroir are essential to cheesemaking. (Istockphoto)

By Jahnabee Borah

LAST PUBLISHED 21.04.2024  |  11:30 AM IST

At a wine and cheese tasting event in Mumbai last month, cheesemonger Mansi Jasani laid out a variety of artisanal cheeses from India. “Konark", a French-style semi-hard Tomme from Mumbai-based fromagerie Eleftheria, was a hot favourite. Its nutty flavour with a hint of umami called for second and third helpings.

As food evolves and people become more discerning, Indian cheesemakers are no longer simply making a Gouda or cheddar—they are trying to differentiate with the stamp of provenance. Konark, which was launched in July 2023, is one of the many European-style cheeses given a distinct Indian identity by Indian cheesemakers. The ring-shaped cheese wheel is reminiscent of the chariot wheel at the Konark temple in Odisha, from which it takes its name.

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A cheese is considered new under three conditions: when it is made using local milk, cultures and ingredients; it is created with a new technique; or the original recipe is changed by the introduction of a local ingredient. “This has been happening in the US for a while. Japan has started doing this recently, and now cheesemakers in India have caught on too," says Jasani. In the niche world of Indian artisanal cheese, the definition of new is largely indicative of terroir.

“Cheese-making is a centuries-old tradition. There are cheeses like mozzarella and cheddar which have become mainstream, while others like Gruyère and Comté hold geographical indication tags. As a purist, I’d say cheese made outside Europe ought to have its own unique names," explains Jasani.

One of the simplest ways to infuse a hand-crafted cheese with an Indian identity is to use spice blends unique to the terroir. Chennai-based artisanal cheese brand Käse’s Ode to Chennai has a coating of molaga podi, and their semi-hard curd cheese Mor Milagai is infused with mor milagai (fermented chillies).

They also have an Aged Goat Cheese coated with spent grains (leftovers from beer brewing), which is aged for about eight months. “The grains have undergone fermentation, they carry enzymes which impart flavour and elevate the cheese," explains Namrata Sundaresan of Käse.

In Uttarakhand, Darima uses the pahadi spice mix zarai in its cheese called Zarai which has a pronounced cumin flavour. In the east, there’s Pine Hills Creamery in Shillong, which is experimenting with cheddar and Parmesan to launch a new cheese named Khas, short for Khasi.

Apart from masala-accented cheese, there’s a range of Tomme-style cheese like Konark that champion terroir. Jasani points out that while Tomme de Savoie from the French Alps is the most famous, India has Tomme de Bambai from The Spotted Cow Fromagerie in Mumbai, Tomme de Bengaluru from Melchior Fromagerie in Bengaluru and Tomme de Semmancheri from The Farm in Chennai.

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The Farm has a range of cheese with the imprint of terroir and provenance. Their Queso Coromandel is a Manchego-style cheese with origins in Spain. “While the Manchego is made with sheep milk, we have used buffalo milk," says Shalini Philip of The Farm, explaining how they have added their own spin. Their creamy bloomy rind cheese is called 1/277, a number that’s part of their address.

There are cheeses with Indian flavours aplenty and myriad ways to enjoy them. Philip is enthusiastic about experimenting with pairings. She follows the four tenets of good cooking as defined by food writer Samin Nosrat: salt, fat, acid, heat. Cheese is all fat and some have salt, and hence, pair best with foods high in acid, like strawberries, which are rich in malic and citric acids, and condiments like balsamic vinegar and pickles. You could heat the cheese to get a delish soft texture.

At an event in Dubai, Jasani served cheese with the sweetish Gujarati mango chunda and a crumble of bhakarwadi. Mango chunda can be replaced with sweet lemon pickle or amla murabba. While onion relish makes for a perfect pairing with most cheeses—from soft Camembert and brie to semi-hard Gouda and Tomme—try replacing it with tamarind chutney for a punch of taste, suggests Philip. All of these have a bit of acid and a jammy texture to cut through the fats in a cheese for a delightful play of flavours.

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