Cheese is comfort food for me – there may not be much else in my refrigerator at times, but cheese will have its place. That, and some bread are enough to make a meal of. I remember as a kid, when we had family coming from the UK, US, or even the Middle East, cheese would be on the list of requests – blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, a rich brie. La vache qui rit and Kraft tins (anyone recall those?) in fact are part of some of my earliest memories. And there was always Amul on hand, locally. But let’s face it, the very reason we asked for cheese from foreign shores was that the choice here in India was quite limited. Later, living in the US, I could enjoy even gourmet cheese without breaking the bank, and did so quite regularly!
Now of course, there is every manner of cheese and brand available here in India, but still, most come at a rather steep price. But in the last couple of years, the market has seen local brands bringing more variety, and at an affordable price. Go Cheese has been one I keep going back to, for their slices and the wedges. Thus, when an invite came to a Go Cheese tasting event at The Biere Club, in association with Femina Magazine, where the brand’s spokesman, celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar would be leading the way, I accepted even though it was just a day after I was back in town, after two weeks away. And am I glad I did! I learned more about the brand, its parent brand Parag Milk Foods, different ways I could incorporate cheese into dishes and how to create interesting flavor combinations, and came away with a goodie bag that introduced me to some new Go Cheese flavors (kacha aam, peri-peri and more), and has me well stocked with a food I consider a staple!
The evening began with a short set by stand-up comedian and a founding member of East India Comedy, Sahil Shah. I am always leery of stand-up acts because many a time they either cross the line from funny to offensive, can be overly sexual, or well, just aren’t that funny. Mr. Shah was, much to my delight, on point, hilarious, and sharp witted – nimble both with his jokes and with finding that balance between funny and outrageous. It was a fun and funny start to our evening.
Mr. Mahesh Israni, Chief Marketing Officer of Parag Milk Foods (Go, Gowardhan, Topp Up, Pride of Cows), was next on stage to talk to us about the brand’s various offerings, their processes, and enlighten us as to the cheese scene in India. Did you know that Gujarat consumes the most cheese in the country, with Bangalore coming in 3rd and Delhi 4th? The company has more than cheese to offer, btw, under it’s different lines – there’s also milk (regular and flavored), ghee, curd, buttermilk, butter, and paneer. They are geared up for even more growth than the current 35%, equipped with a plant that has the capacity to churn out 1600 varieties of cheese products! One very interesting factoid we learned was about the Pride of Cows (currently in Maharashtra only) brand under Parag Milk Foods, which offers premium, organic milk that is never touched by human hands across the entire cycle, from cow to packaging to sale!
And now, it was time for the main man himself, Chef Ranveer Brar. Rather than making it a formal talk, he chatted with the audience from the stage, and gave us a quick rundown of facts on cheese, and then half a dozen cheese pairing and sides (sauces, fruits, etc.) options. His suggestions incorporated both Indian spices and elements, and Western condiments. As he talked, we were served a three-cheese platter with Gouda, Colby, and Cheddar (not sharp), alongside crackers, fresh figs and grapes, a sauce, and of course – wine. Both red and white were on offer, from KRSMA Estates, a Karnataka brand. I decided to have a little of each, and tried the cheeses with them, to see how the more acidic white and the drier red would play with the flavors on my palate.
The high point of the evening, food wise, was the platter of hors d’oeuvres made with Go Cheese, that appeared at the tables next. Cheesy Pepper Agrodolce Calzone, Beetroot Carpaccio with herb Almette and mini greens, Cheddar and Monterey Jack flour nacho with avocado salsa, Mustard, Tomato and Olive bruschetta, and a wedge of crumb fried cheese accompanied by Chilli Grape chutney – all delicious and showcasing the cheese beautifully. The carpaccio and the bruschetta were my favorites – the former for the mouthfeel and the herb Almette cheese, and the latter for the sharp mustard tang that lingered. We ended with two desserts, made with cheese – Saffron Cream Syllabub with fresh fruits and Biscotti Crumbles and Almette Cheese Topped Humming Bird Cake with Edible Flowers – both were a tad too Indian to find favor with me, but were liked by others at the table.
I came away feeling good about supporting locally made cheese and not needing to buy imported to get my cheese fix. I now have some varieties of spicy cheese to add to my next grilled cheese sandwich, or top my pasta with. And the next time friends gather for a drink or even just tea, I will have a trick or two up my sleeve, thanks to Chef Ranveer’s tips. All in all, an informative and delicious two hours!