Kalimpong, Bandel, Guava: Chunks From India’s Cheese History

 

The Dutch introduced the art of cheese-making to India and set up small manufacturing units in Kalimpong. Today, three of these favourite flavours can be picked in Kolkata and are difficult to find anywhere else in the country. 

By Chef Shaun Kenworthy

If you enter from the front of New Market (Kolkata), and take a left at Nahoums, in amongst tiny little unimposing shops that sell dry groceries and paneer, you’ll find three of my favourite things in Kolkata — Kalimpong, Bandel and Guava cheese — three things difficult to find anywhere else in the country.

I have been writing about and travelling with them for years, but still fear that if more and more people aren’t aware of their existence, soon they could be gone forever.

The Dutch introduced the art of cheese-making to India and set up small manufacturing units in Kalimpong. To this day, a delicious Gouda style cheese is made here and they come in large wheels. In Bandel, which was once a Portuguese town on the Hoogli plain, you still get smoked cheeses preserved in salt that you can buy in small aloo tikki-sized lozenges. They have to be soaked overnight and are delicious.

The last and most interesting item is their ‘Guava cheese’, that is not a cheese at all, but harks back to a time when the Europeans were completely smitten with a paste made from sugar and cooked quince in it, which the English would then set in blocks and refer to as ‘Quince Cheese’. When they came to India, they were obviously in a dilemma. Someone must have stumbled over a replacement from the same family of fruits and the ‘Guava Cheese’ was found.

Once you have your Kalimpong, Bandel and Guava cheeses, the next obvious thing is to have a cocktail party at home. However, don’t forget to pick up some grapes, celery and walnuts and, of course, a few packets of India’s finest savoury crackers and biscuits from Nahoum’s, on your way back from New Market.  Depending on the season, you’ll find celery and spring onion crackers, water biscuits and butter biscuits. If it is a Friday, you can even pick up a loaf of the Jewish Passover bread ‘Challah’ that the family has been making since they set up shop over a century ago. And you have all the ingredients for a perfect cheese board.

Here are two recipes that will hopefully do justice to these culinary treasures.

Smokey Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Mac ‘n’ cheese has, over the past year or so, become a #foodporn favourite. This one is thick and cheesy and made deliciously smokey with the Bandel cheese.

Recipe will serve 4.

Method

First, pre-heat an oven to 180 degrees centigrade, liberally butter an oven-proof dish or four small ones, and boil a pan of salted water. While you’re waiting for that to boil, in a saucepan, melt 2tbs of butter and stir in 2tsb flour. Stir in 1tsp of mustard powder and slowly start adding a little warmed milk (around 500ml), stirring continuously until you have a smooth sauce-like consistency. (By now your water should be boiling, so throw in around 350g of pasta, shells, penne, or my favourite if you can get it, spiral macaroni).

Allow your sauce to simmer and stir constantly for around 10 mins, so that the flour is cooked. Then beat in 200g Kalimpong cheese and four smoked grated Bandel cheese and a fine grating of around half of a whole nutmeg.

Quickly strain your pasta once it is cooked, and mix into your cheese sauce. Check the seasoning and add salt and cracked black pepper, if necessary. Pour this into your oven proof dish or dishes, and top it with a sprinkling of fresh bread crumbs (about 50g), chopped parsley and another 50g of grated Kalimpong cheese (add some bacon crisps  or smoked salmon slices, if you like). Bake for around 20 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Serve with some crusty bread and butter or a salad and a nice ice cold glass of beer or white wine.

Baked Cheese Soufflé With Mixed Greens And Guava Paste

People are always afraid of making soufflés and with good reason, as they tend to fall flat with the slightest drop in temperature. This cheese soufflés is different than the rest, and can also be double baked or served immediately.

Recipe will serve 4

Method

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade and butter four individual baking dishes or ramekins (3.5” to 4”) and sprinkle with breadcrumbs until evenly coated.

Next, melt 50g of butter in a pan over medium heat and stir in the 50g of flour and 1tsp of mustard powder and cook. Stir for around a minute before gradually adding 300ml of milk. This will make a really thick sauce. Keep it on a low simmer and keep stirring for around 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and beat in 75g of Kalimpong cheese, two smoked Bandel cheese and 30g of parmesan cheese, all grated, with around half tsp fresh chopped thyme (optional) and three egg yolks. At this point, check the seasoning and add cracked pepper and salt, if necessary, as the cheese may have salted it enough.

Whisk the whites in a separate clean bowl until you get good peaks which hold their shape, and lightly fold in the cheese mixture. Pour it into your buttered and crumbed dishes, and bake for around 18 to 25 mins until the top is risen and golden with a slight wobble. Serve immediately with a nice leafy salad on the side, a spoon of guava paste and a glass of bubbly. It is a fancy soufflé, after all!

Born and bred in the United Kingdom, Chef Shaun Kenworthy has worked in some of the best gourmet addresses, in Bem’s in Stockholm and Gustavinos in New York. He arrived in Kolkata, India, in 2000, and has spent the best part of the last 17 years or so, consulting with the hospitality industry and helping new project startup.

 

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