The fable about the fox and the crow has many variations across the world — among the ones popular in France is the one where the crow sits on a tree branch with a piece of cheese in its beak, and a sly fox flatters the crow, praising its voice and asking to hear it. The crow gives in to the flattery, opens its beak to caw, and drops the cheese—of course the cunning fox runs away with it.
The old fable inspired the name of a two-month old fromagerie in Bengaluru’s Koramangala. Nari & Kāge—Kannada for ‘The Fox and the Crow’—is run by graphic designers and cheese enthusiasts Kathrina Salam and Benjamin Armel. Salam is from Manipur while Armel is from France — they met at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design And Technology in Bengaluru a decade ago and have been together for a few years. They started experimenting with making cheese during the lockdown—Armel had always missed good quality cheese during his time in Bengaluru—and became self-taught cheesemakers. Initially making and selling from home, they got such enthusiastic response to their variety of cheeses that they decided to set up shop in Koramangala, selling high-quality, difficult-to-get cheeses like Queso Oaxaca; Manchego; Camembert; a Pecorino-like cheese with goat milk (Pecorino Romano is typically made with sheep’s milk) and Chèvre—along with a few better-known ones like Edam and Gouda.
Nari & Kāge’s homage to their chosen city is their Kempe Knolle—a version of the Swiss cheese Belper Knolle—named after the iconic founder of Bengaluru, Kempe Gowda I. It is a hard cheese; peppery and sharp. “People think Indians don’t like strong cheeses, but we see a lot of awareness and interest in various kinds of cheese beyond the usual mozzarella and cheddar, or even the burrata, which has become so popular now,” says Armel. “Although many of our customers do still think of cheese as an ‘ingredient’ and ask ‘what can we make with this?’, the popularity of serving cheese platters and eating cheese as is, with a cracker or some sourdough bread, is definitely on the rise,” says Salam.
If you are picking up cheese from Nari & Kāge, you won’t have to go too far to pick up some sourdough as well. A few streets away is Sourhouse, perhaps Bengaluru’s most famous bread-makers, with a range of sourdough breads like Sour Loaf, Olive & Rosemary Loaf and Seeded Sour Loaf. In the other direction from the store is a new German craft bakery, Bäcker, founded by German nationals Devine Reissmüller and Heinz G. Pfankuche, which sells Bavarian Pretzels, Lye Buns and Sourdough Baton Bread.
A short auto ride away, there’s Fermentation Stories, a pizzeria that also opened doors a few months ago and has already garnered considerable buzz on social media for its sourdough-based pizzas, especially its Neapolitan pizzas. “I ran a restaurant in Chikmagalur for five years, and we had to do a lot of explaining about what sourdough was. In Bangalore, communication is much easier. There is already a lot of awareness about fermented products, especially in this area thanks to fermenters like Kobo Fermentery that have been around for a while,” says chef Lijo Joy Kaspar, founder of Fermentation Stories.
Then there’s Local Ferment Co, a two-year-old business with a focus on non-alcoholic fermented beverages like kombucha, jun (a fermented drink, similar to kombucha, made using green tea and honey), fermented ginger ale and their specialty—shrub soda, a fizzy non-alcoholic beverage made with sparkling water and whole fruits. They also make spectacular sandwiches with their home-made sourdough bread, from a Shrimp Katsu and Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches to what they call, without undue modesty, The Best Goddamn Sandwich, made with freshly baked focaccia, cold cuts like streaky bacon, pepperoni, roasted pork and grilled tenderloin, burrata cheese and fermented hot sauce.
Business has grown considerably since they opened for online orders during the pandemic, says co-founder Akash Devaraju. “We were making 40 bottles a week earlier—now we do that much in an hour. Our online sales have expanded to pan-India, and our products are served at 60-70 restaurants and cafes across India,” says Devaraju, who runs the business with his partner Noopur Porwal.
While there is no dearth of fermented alcoholic beverages in the area — like practically every Bengaluru neighbourhood, Koramangala too has several microbreweries, including The Bier Library, Xoox Brewmill and Brooks and Bonds Brewery—but Devaraju and Porwal wanted to stay with non-alcoholic fermented beverages, sensing a growing demand, globally, for complex, layered drinks that are ‘zero-proof’ or don’t contain alcohol. “There’s no reason those who don’t drink alcohol or want to take a break from it should be limited to drinking lime-soda. And the benefits of fermentation are well known as well, so there is increasing demand for healthy, fermented, unprocessed and not sugar-laden drinks,” says Porwal.
Devaraju talks about how being located in an area where there are many innovative food businesses is inspiring. “There is a lot of start-up energy in Koramangala, and it feels good to be part of a community of fermenters,” he says. That ecosystem is important — and several of the fermenteries do support other local businesses; for instance, you will find Bäcker’s breads at Nari & Kāge, along with preserves and relishes from artisanal brands like Native Tongue and Ishka Farms.
“We are all very baby businesses, and it’s good to be part of a neighbourhood where you can go for a walk on a Sunday morning and pick up cheese from us, bread from Sourhouse or Bäcker, and head home for a long breakfast,” says Salam of Nari & Kāge. “People are giving a chance to Koramangala.”