Revolutions are born from the need of the moment. Such is the story of Panchal Dairy, named after the Panchal Rabari pastoral community of Gujarat, which rears the indigenous Panchali sheep. Headed by 25-year-olds Arpan Kalotra and Bhimsinhbhai Ghanghal this artisan cheese-making facility in the village of Sayla, 136 km from Ahmedabad, is slowly making history. The area is also home to the Zalavadi goat. Another endemic breed of goats, Gohilwadi, is found in the neighbouring districts.
Kalotra says as the demand for goat and sheep milk began to fall vis-à-vis bovine milk, the community, which largely rears goats and sheep, looked for ways to cut their losses. “Goat and sheep milk have a strong smell and taste compared to bovine milk, and also have a shorter shelf life. This impacted sales. Besides, over the years, many government rules and regulations reduced the grazing areas, making it difficult to maintain livestock. The younger generation started taking up small jobs in the cities. We had to look for a way out to self-sustain,” he says.
As luck would have it, in 2022, Sahjeevan Centre for Pastoralism (CfP) in Bhuj, Kutch district, took up the initiative to develop entrepreneurship among the pastoral youth. With a large livestock herding population in the region, Sahjeevan realised that there is a considerable potential for entrepreneurship linked to value-added products that could rejuvenate pastoral people’s livelihood. During the training programme, Kalotra and Ghanghal learnt about a dairy course at Anand—the milk capital of India—where they learned to convert milk into other products.
“We started the dairy to supplement our income with products like ice-creams, lassi, khoya and yoghurt. The biggest challenge, however, was that these items were highly perishable,” Ghanghal says. During the workshop, the duo learnt that cheese-making can be a worthwhile social enterprise as the product lasts longer. The idea was given shape by CfP, which agreed to support the two budding entrepreneurs in establishing a cheese-making unit in Surendranagar district of Saurashtra.
CfP also brought on board one of the partners at Chennai-based Kase Cheese, Namrata Sundaresan—who is the only certified cheese instructor in India under the UK-based Academy of Cheese—to train them. She says, “It took 18 months, wherein they were trained on each product, almost on a monthly basis, resulting in 12 different kinds of cheese. The product mix includes specialties like Chevre, Halloumi, Feta and the classic Goat Tomme, which is an Alpine-style cheese.”
The fact that there are close to 3,500 goat- and sheep-herding households in the region made it easier for the two entrepreneurs to source milk from a shipping point, making Sayla the perfect location for a goat and sheep cheese creamery. While goat cheese is more crumbly, sheep cheese is more cohesive. Also, the quantity of sheep cheese is far less and the price is higher as the animal only breeds only once a year during winters, so herders can only get the milk after lambing.
Kalotra and Ghanghal started production in 2022, selling the cheese at exhibitions and farmers' markets. “With the experience we have got, we are now ready to work with retail markets and the catering sector to supply the cheese,” they say, as they mull creating an ‘experience centre’ at Sayla. “We have had students from hotel management and culinary institutes visiting us. Tourists also come to see the factory,” says Kalotra, adding, “Visitors can experience the whole process, which begins less than four hours after the milking of goats and sheep.” What started with trying to self-sustain the herding community has now evolved into the business being a part of the burgeoning Indian cheese market, which is expected to reach `262.6 billion by 2028.