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Say Cheese

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Cheese. What is it with cheese? Ever been to a real party where there’s no cheese? Forget it. In one form or other, the presence of cheese makes its presence felt – be it as is, or on crackers, in a bake, a cake, with pasta, or as a fondue. Like fine wines, a product of fermentation, cheese has been consumed and relished since ancient times.

The knowledge of gourmet cheeses are readily available today, and is steadily expanding. Increasingly, the cultured palate of the old and young are on the look out for the finest cheese . Specialty cheeses especially are a value-added product. Food adventurers are on the look out for cheeses with character, going beyond cream crackers and cheese whilst entertaining. The qualities that make a specialty cheese vary from origin to processing styles, supply, milk source, and extraordinary packaging, but the most common denominator is the constant high quality standard which makes a cheese unique.

Some of the leading specialty cheeses are goat’s cheese and organic cheeses particularly those of European origin. Creating awareness about what is special, is at present a very popular trend. Holding demonstrations, gifting free samples and cooking classes in eateries for patrons, as a way of educating them on crafted cheeses helps build discerning tastes. Another selling promo is when chefs by invitation create specialty dishes based on crafted cheese.

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Speciality cheeses are no longer the sole preserve of celebrity chefs and restaurants. They are becoming a household standard for up-market clientele. Using cheese in cooking also adds a special dimension to taste and presentation. Eaten as is, or accompanied with crackers and fine wine, cheese is a protein-rich meal.

The difference between specialty cheese and commodity cheese is that the former is usually available only at delicatessens. Also the variety of fresh cheeses is limited, but the creations exciting. The idea is not to eat more, but to eat better. In India speciality cheeses are still a novelty and learning to age cheeses is an art, which requires skill and patience. The breed of artisan cheese makers are rare, and still rarer are cheese makers who use indigenous ingredients to make their cheese stand out in terms of flavour and texture; I have come across three. ABC Farms in Pune have created a whole gamut of cheeses and the farm’s latest is a cheese wrapped around olives and aged. Also there are cheeses from Manali made by an Italian whose ricotta and assiago cheese goes well with Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sherry or Sparkling wine. This is now available in Mumbai and Delhi. The third is a place called Mango Hill in Pondicherry, who’s invented a cheese called Le Pondicherry  – a curry leaf crusted cheese.

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There are three types of cheese: soft, medium and hard.   Several factors determine the economics of cheese making; these include ingredients and duration of ripening which could be anywhere from a few weeks to years. Cheddar and Parmesan are the most expensive.  The varieties of cheese are boundless. From cheese with herbs or peppers, to smoked cheeses, mascarpone, and marbled cheese, cheese matured in wines, oils and vinegars, one is really spoilt for choice…

Bon appétit.

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