It's slow, it's acquired

It's slow, it's acquired

The Indian palette is yet to explore its tastebuds, especially when it comes to cheese, observes Manish Gaekwad.

Have you noticed, when the photographer says ‘Cheese’ for your big family portrait, most people don’t know how to react? Cheese isn’t immediately brought to the table in Indian meals. Cheese does not find mention on the lunch or dinner table. So where does it fit in the Indian menu? At breakfast, a slice perhaps, to make a quick-dash sandwich, or as children grate a cube as an early morning game.

Indian stores are stocking several varieties of cheese in supermarkets. But is it tempting the Indian consumer? The average mall-hopping shopper who glares at the brightly lit cabinet is more likely to sample it, not knowing how to incorporate it as an ingredient in cooking. Party planners are picking up cube cheese as decorative entree and a hunk of blue-veined cheese to go with the wine tasting.

The Indian palate recognises cheese as a rich, creamy topping that comes along with pizza. Most people are not even informed of the 40-odd varieties of cheese available in the market, let alone 3,000 other kinds produced worldwide. A general lack of adventure is missing from the Indian food palate.‘Cheese in the cabinet’ still remains a thing of curiosity to gawk at. Mommies are perhaps the ones trying to use cheese in novel ways. They are finding ways to stuff their children’s lunchbox with cheese sandwiches, cheese maggi noodles, cheese toast, cheese parantha, cheese roll, cheese pakora, aloo cheese, and the list goes on.

For the uninitiated, there are three major forms of cheese: fresh, whey and mold. For fresh cheese, milk is heated and drained to make cottage cheese. Whey cheese is derived from the liquid which remains after milk has been curdled and strained. Mold cheese, such as mozzarella is what is mostly found on the Indian table, and used for dressing or garnish. Mold cheese is made by kneading and stretching of fresh curd in hot water. A ball is formed and dunked in brine.

As on today, cheese is a Rs.1,250-crore market and consumption is growing by 15-20 percent per annum. A total of 60 per cent of that consumption is from the big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. The Indian market is dominated by local brands producing cheese locally, while imported cheese takes only about five percent of the market share. A recent study concludes that Mumbai tops the urban consumption market by 30 per cent; Delhi is at 20 per cent; Kolkata at 7 per cent; and Chennai musters close to 6 per cent. Statistics are not in favour of the Cheese Masala Dosa in the south. However, North Indians are all for their pav bhaji dripping butter and topped with cheese.

The common challenge, sadly, for cheese makers is the lack of storage and processing facilities, which has so far kept the market from booming. It is this slow movement that will, hopefully, drive both, the market and its end consumer.

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