South Indian tea region discovers a passion for cheese

Tue Jul 7, 2009 2:32am EDT
 
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By Ajay Kamalakaran

COONOOR, India (Reuters Life!) - The misty hills of Nilgiris have for decades grown some of the world's finest teas, but a few residents are hoping the southern Indian region will become renowned for another, unusual product: gourmet cheese.

Like many other Asians, Indians are not traditionally big on cheese, although other dairy products such as milk, ghee, yoghurt and the cottage cheese-like paneer are widely eaten.

European cheeses, however, have become popular among the growing ranks of Westernised, wealthy professionals who, unlike most of the population, can afford them.

Farmers in the Nilgiris have been making plain, processed cheese for the Indian army's cantonment in the region for years.

But as more retired professionals move to the area and the tourists increase, a few entrepreneurs have started making a variety of homemade hard and soft cheeses.

"The cooler climate here is ideal to make a variety of cheeses," says Ramanathan Pillai, a former employee of the area's dairy farmers cooperative. Average temperatures in the region hover around 14 degrees Celsius (57 F).

From the kitchen of her colonial-era home in Coonoor, a town of 100,000 people and one of area's biggest, Shernaz Homi Sethna makes organic hard cheeses such as Gouda, Colby and Parmesan as well as soft cheeses flavored with local herbs.

"The milk is sourced from local farmers and I grow many of the ingredients in my garden," says Sethna, whose Gray's Hill brand has become a household name in the Nilgiris.   Continued...