A lot can happen over coffee. Ask Chennai cheese entrepreneurs Anuradha Krishnamoorthy and Namrata Sundaresan. Six months ago, Sundaresan had completed a short course in cheesemaking during a farm stay in Acres Wild, Coonoor, in November 2015. Even as she was pondering what next, Krishnamoorthy—with a background in social ventures—met her over coffee to brainstorm on how best to skill-train differently abled girls. The answer, they both realised, lay in cheesemaking.
So in August 2016, Sundaresan began training two girls with hearing impairment to make cheese. Over the month about five kinds of cheese were made. Friends, families and fellow foodies couldn’t be more thrilled. Lady Luck smiled too. Next month, the duo was invited to participate in a pop-up. In a day’s time a logo, website, stickers, packaging, etc was put together, and Käse was in business.
It has been a long and successful journey since then. Today, the brand which enters the half-decade-mark offers almost 30 varieties of cheese. Also, Sundaresan has recently been inducted as a trainer with the UK-based Academy of Cheese a new not-for-profit industry-funded organisation. The Academy has been set up to promote cheese knowledge and build skills in the full cheese cycle. “This year will have a lot to offer expansion plans, exciting collaborations, and more. We want to create a larger awareness on good cheese both for makers and patrons,” says Sundaresan.
Many may wonder what a fromagerie is doing in the sultry climes of Chennai. After all, haven’t we grown up on the idea of the best of cheese from France and Italy? Sundaresan laughs, “Of course, the weather is an issue. But we have figured out how to work around it. Cheese is not left out on its own. We take help from a temperature-controlled and humidity-controlled environment to mature it. Also, as the days get hotter, like now, we start our work earlier than usual.” Käse prides itself in not working with store-bought cultures, but rather with natural cultures, and “extremely good quality milk”. Seventy percent of what they make is fresh cheese—“clean and unprocessed, seasoned only with sea-salt and free of emulsifiers and additives”. Also, as the cheese ages, it starts to talk about the story of the land and that is a reflection of what Käse is all about.
Story of the land, indeed. The brand boasts uniquely local flavours—there is the Ode to Chennai, rubbed with milagai podi; a cheese infused with rose petals all the way from Rajasthan; a Feta wrapped in turmeric leaves and left to mature and incorporate the flavours; an amazing collaboration with Fratelli wines that gave birth to a Cheddar using the vine leaves to wrap the cheese in to age it and give it flavour; and of course, the flavour of the Mediterranean with a Gouda aged with Sumac and Zatar. So in all this, what is her go-to flavour? “The pickled Feta,” comes the prompt response.
The brand also sources a few indigenous tribal ingredients such as raw honey from Kodaikanal and cocoa beans from orchids of Tamil Nadu. Why this unrelenting quest for spice? “As Indians we crave something that is more flavoursome, with a hint of spice.” People often tend to intellectualise cheese, making it unapproachable. Adding local flavours makes the product approachable,” says the cheesemaker. Up for some milagai podi?