Artisanal cheese maker Arpita Nag is leading Kolkattans towards the slow food movement
When we dropped by cheese maker Arpita Nag's Dhakuria studio on a weekday afternoon, she was engrossed with a pickled feta in her kitchen. "The pickled feta and halloumi (semi-hard brined cheese) are my best-sellers," she told us as she rounded up some delicious samples for us. Arpita's artisanal cheese label Meraki - Artisan Cheese and Rustic Bakes is just a year old and has created quite a stir among the conscious eaters in the city.
From soft, stretched to semi-hard, Arpita is making all kinds of preservative-free artisanal cheeses; her menu features a diverse range from Buffalo Burrata to aged gouda. We spoke to the cheese maker who’s leading the charge in clean eating:
Food was always my forte, I make everything and I'm a self-taught baker. But the home baker thing is so saturated here, how many fondant cakes can you want (laughs). I started watching these cheese-making videos and I found them mesmerising, especially how slow the process is. I learnt in Chennai and Auroville, where you have many cheese makers from France and Denmark.
Your work also has a focus on the slow food movement
Yes, this movement started in the 1980s by the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini; it's a direct antithesis to the fast food movement where people just settle for anything. Cheese is just fermentation, you let the curds come about, you acidify the milk, you break the bonds, the lactic acid is released, the acidity helps you form the curd.
Essentially all cheeses have a similar process of being made, soft cheeses like feta do not need to be cooked hard cheeses need to be cooked, aged cheese need to be warmed at about 40 - 60 degrees. It's plain and simple milk, but you can create a hundred kinds of cheeses with the same milk.
As a cheese-maker my goal would be to have my own farm and have my own cows, like there are creameries which operate and Europe and UK. We do have a couple of farms in Kolkata now. Again, free range farms are a must, we have been eating synthetic for so long now. When I'm talking of Parmesan cheese, it is only the Parma, Reggio Emilia region which can make the cheese owing to the feed that the cows get, when they are in the meadows out in the open.
How long does it really take to make cheese?
It is all about how long you're pressing and ageing the cheese. A matured cheddar can be aged for 8-12 months, it's an acquired taste. The ageing of cheese is called affinage, there are different kinds of moulds that grow which make it so interesting.The minimum ageing time is three months, I'm currently waiting to age some of my blocks. For some cheeses, the more matured it is, the more flavourful it gets.
Tell us about your clientele
My client base is discerning, people who are conscious about what they eat and why they eat it. My cheese is completely non-toxic and free of emulsifiers. A lot of mums buy from me, who are trying to make their kids eat healthier. There are also people who want to move away from mainstream options, like if you're having guests and you're wary of serving cutlets and fish fingers. You can serve a cheese platter, maybe some wine. Also people who are on keto, because my cheese is pure protein and the good kind of fat, which you need.
Price starts from Rs 300