TO celebrate her 10th anniversary recently,Sharon Pereira was keen to have a menu that would differ from the familys party staples such as grilled chicken,bruschetta and jacket potatoes. This Mumbai-based homemaker went to the neighbourhood hypermart to shop for the ingredients for a few starters but instead spent time at the cheese counter and returned with small bag of cheeses alone. The party was a success. Everyone loved the cheese platter I served with wine. They eagerly tried out various kinds of cheese such as the mango-ginger and cranberry stilton,herbed-gouda,soft triple crème brie,caciotta ovina novella with red peppers, says Pereira.
Pereira is among the many people discovering the huge world of cheeses,unknown to Indians until recently. And the response has been encouraging enough for elaborate imported cheese counters to pop up in hypermarts,delis and restaurants across the city. In 2009,our first cheese counters started in our Mumbai stores. Now,each of our 28 stores across India,including cities such as Hyderabad and Pune,has a full-fledged counter. Imported cheese,in fact,contributes to 10 per cent of our sales, says Sreejith Mohan,Head – Category,Natures Basket.
While international travels exposed Indians to the variety available worldwide,the acceptance of Italian cuisine also aided the awareness. Only paneer has been part of Indian cuisine so our palate hasnt had a taste for cheese,save the generic slices and cubes everyone grew up on. But the good part is that culturally,we are open to experimenting unlike the Chinese, says Roohi Oomerbhoy Jaikishan,director,RRO,which recently tied up with departmental store chains such as HyperCity,Star Bazaar and Gourmet West to set up cheese bars. The acceptance of Italian and French cuisine is further increasing this number,adds Mohan who says that a most upper middle-class households in Mumbai make pasta nearly twice a week.
Although Indians are exploring cheeses,the preferred varieties are mostly the ones easy on the palate,such as the gouda,edam,smoked,feta and goat cheeses ones that can be consumed with sandwiches,burgers and as toppings. The more exotic varieties,such as blue cheese and brie move slower. Earlier,people would walk up to a cheese counter and mistake the smell of blue cheese for that of a rotting rat. Some varieties of cheese can be like caviar you can treat them as exotic food or as spoilt eggs, explains a member of the management at Santè,Bandra,among the first gourmet stores in Mumbai to have a cheese counter.
Since imported cheeses are priced between Rs 1,000 and Rs 6,000 per kg,Indians are only nibbling on it and not yet cooking in it.
Awareness,therefore,is key to cultivate the taste and culture for cheese. Most cheese counters encourage consumers to try different varieties with accompaniments such as crackers,fruits and nuts.
RRO cheese bars are equipped with a number of accompaniments,recipe booklets,pairing guides and so on. We dont expect people to buy these cheeses on their first visit, says Oomerbhoy Jaikishan,the idea is to get them curious and then guide them about how to enjoy it before expecting them to turn into regular consumers.