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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Cheese in India

Cheese making in Coonoor
Marianne De Nazareth

Looking out of the large French windows in Acres Wild, I woke up to an unusual phenomenon for a city dweller - big fluffy clouds had enveloped the house in a complete embrace. There was nothing visible beyond the large glass panes but a chorus of twittering Bulbuls who seem to be undeterred by the thick mist. "We are in the clouds, perfect country to make cheese," said Tina the lady of the house, and the ‘cheese maker’ I had come to meet, as I padded out to get myself a hot wake up cup of coffee. But before I could get to the door, Rhea the adorable family pet had launched herself at me, her entire rear wagging furiously, while her nails clicked on the polished wooden floors of the house.

After a leisurely paced breakfast which included fried eggs, sausages and toast slobbered with peanut butter, Tina told me the story behind Acres Wild and what brought them, a celebrity film family from Bollywood, to live in 21 acres of pristine hill country in Coonoor. Mansoor is the legend Hindi film maker Nasir Hussian’s only son, and a noted film maker in his own right. With Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Akele Hum and Josh under his creative belt. " Mansoor has never been a city person. He has always had an overpowering desire to live in the country, close to nature. But I needed something to do, as I can’t just sit around idle. Out here in the wilds what was I going to do with my day, was my biggest worry. Since we had bought cows for the farm and the milk was too much for the four of us and the staff to consume, it was Mansoor who suggested my making the excess milk into cheese." And their tryst with cheese making was born.

Tina’s first foray into cheese making was by downloading a recipe from the net, and surprisingly she found then, that making the cheese, was not too hard to accomplish. But not before she went across to watch a fellow farm stay owner in Kodai, who actually made cheese on his farm and was hooked. "I also joined a lot of cheese making forums on the net and was able to discuss any problems I was having along the way. One of the issues I initially had was the quantity of mould which was growing on my hard cheese as it cured. I was not keen on waxing my cheese to keep it off, and was told that was a common problem. Slowly I learnt how to handle it from fellow cheese makers in these forums. I like my cheese to be natural, with a natural rind forming, so I clean off the mould with salt and vinegar. My cheese is completely organic and totally vegetarian. That is my USP as very few cheese makers made authentic vegetarian cheese. But, there is no teacher like experience," reveals Tina, "and I have learnt all I know through personal hands on experience, making my cheese."

Tina makes Gouda, Monterey Jack, Colby, Havarti, Caerphilly, Gruyere, Parmesan, Romano and Cheddar hard cheese. " I also flavour some Gouda with pepper and caraway seed and Monterey Jack with Red Chillie, Jeera or fresh chillie with garlic. Smoked Cheddar and Monterey Jack also sell well," says Tina. "Once someone tastes my cheese they always come back for more. As soon as I give my cheese to the store in Bedford, which is Coonoor’s main shopping area, it is completely sold out."

Tina also makes soft cheeses with herb and garlic, pepper, celery, caraway seed and a blend which is her own innovation called Indian Summer. "That’s for our Indian palates and it is flavoured with a blend of chillie, jeera and garlic."

For me, a crazy Camembert lover, it was a thrill to try Tina’s Camembert which a local Frenchman has paid her the ultimate compliment. He says she has got to the original heart of the cheese with its flavour and has mastered the art completely. "Considering he is from Normandy which is Camembert country, that’s a great compliment," says Mansoor proudly! Advertising film maker Ayesha Sayani the director and producer of a number of famous films including ‘Hungama Bombay Ishtyle’ loves Tina’s cheese and whenever is in town buys all of it to take back with her to Mumbai for family and friends. "Appreciation of my work is what I value and nothing like clients who cannot get enough of my cheese," says Tina smilingly.

Later, Tina and I climbed up the hill to the ‘Cheese Room’ as she calls it. It was a steep climb and city slicker me, was shamelessly panting and out of breath by the time I reached the top. Thick mist was every where as we walked up past guava trees loaded with ripe guavas which Tina had turned into jam, and which everyone thickly layered on hot toast and enjoyed for breakfast.

The cheese room is beautiful, like everything else built on the farm. Infact it had stunning cut glass murals through which the sun filters and lights up the whole building. There is surprisingly not too much machinery around except for a large double walled utensil in which the cheese is made. A large room on the lower floor is the drying room where large circles of cheese stand on tall racks, maturing for around one to two months before they are cut to sell.

Outside, one of the staff is using dried pear branches to smoke some of the cheese. If you are a true cheese lover, that is to die for.
"All the cooking on the entire farm, including the cheese, is done on gobar gas made from the dung of our cows," explains Mansoor, " and all the hot water we use, we get from the solar panels fitted on the buildings. We had always wanted to live a more sustainable life away from the city and at last I have found all I want in Acres Wild."
Going back to the house we settled down to eating crackers from Sri Lanka smothered in soft cheese with a caraway flavour. I even got a couple of wedges to take home with me to Bangalore, which I will nibble at, to stretch eating it, especially the smoked variety which is divine. It’s a real relief to eat true blue cheese, after having been brought up for decades on just the processed brands, here in India.

So, check out their website - for the variety of cheese and butter made at Acres Wild. Day Farm visits are possible if you email in advance should you be holidaying in Coonoor : Mansoor has plans to open a Home Stay next year, but for now should you be in Coonoor, look out for the Acres Wild Cheese label in Bakers Junction, Oxford Bookstore and Nilgiri’s in Coimbatore and Green Shop and Shivani Stores in Ooty. You cannot buy cheese off the farm.

How to get there:
Check the website : website -
Email in advance for farm visits:
© Marianne de Nazareth November 2009
Kodai Hill Country Holiday Resort
Marianne de Nazareth

With an audible plop a large yellow leaf fell off the African Tulip tree just outside our balcony window, while I sat sipping my coffee.

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