When Amit Sarkar and his wife Neelima would visit Kochi from Mumbai for their annual vacation, she would say, “There are no good vegetarian restaurants in Kochi. I miss eating paneer.” Much later when Amit hit a dead end in his job, Neelima said, “Why don’t you start a business of making paneer in Kochi?” Amit, a Bengali, had grown up in Kochi. His research made him realise there was a market for authentic north Indian paneer in the southern city.
After finishing a six-month internship course on dairy products at Amul in Anand, Gujarat, Amit started Sarkars Dairy Tech with his younger brother Sourabh in February 2013. Today, the company makes one tonne paneer each day and sells it to five-star hotels in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The milk arrives every day at 3 am in a truck from Hosur, Karnataka. Thereafter, 36 lab tests are done to check whether the milk is acidic or not, good or bad. Once it is okayed, it is put in a two-chambered pasteuriser. Water is heated in one, and the steam heats the milk in an adjacent chamber to retain its flavour.
“Cow milk that we get has a 4 per cent fat content,” says Amit. “To get good paneer, you need 6.5 per cent.” This is achieved through a milk standardisation process and a natural coagulant imported from Italy. “I came across it while attending a dairy fest in Delhi,” says Amit.
Paneer chunks are placed in hoops, a type of tray. These blocks of paneer are cut into 200 grams, half a kilo and one kilo packets and packed. “The paneer is then transported in an insulated truck with a temperature of 4 degrees Centigrade,” says Amit. “This is mandatory. Hotels do a temperature check before they accept the paneer.”
The brothers have opened a Bengali sweet retail shop in Kochi called Bikash Babu Sweets. “We are selling sweets such as rosogollas, misthi doi (sweet curd), sandesh, malai pakeeza, khaju and jaggery sandesh,” says Sourabh. “Its more of a passion than a business. We are trying to bring the Kolkata taste to Kerala.”
On a sunny evening, business is brisk. Amit points at an empty tray and says with a smile, “Three hundred samosas have already been sold.”
Their father P K Sarkar came to Kochi from Jamshedpur for work and settled in the coastal city in 1979. “We call ourselves the Mallu-Bong Sarkars,” says Amit.