In the markets of Sikkim, it is common to see cubes of cheese, strung together by twine, hanging in roadside shops. Yellow and hard, the cheese called chhurpi is a popular snack in the region, chewed and relished for long. But in other parts of India, it is barely known.

Such has been the dominance of paneer in India’s cheese landscape that other native cheeses rarely find a mention outside of the state they are produced in. It is indeed easier to get camembert from Denmark at a supermarket in Mumbai than it is to get Kalari from Kashmir.

Made with different varieties of milk, eaten as a snack or used as flavouring, here are a few native Indian cheeses that reflect the traditions of the region they come from.

Kalari

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If you think paneer is the only real cheese that has originated in India, you are grossly mistaken. In fact, we proudly incorporate two wonderful indigenous Indian cheeses on our current menu at @thebombaycanteen — the Parsi topli paneer and the smoked Bandel cheese from the eponymous town in West Bengal. . For those not in the know, this particular one is Kalari or Maish Krej, originally a cheese from Jammu with a dense yet stretchy texture and a mild Mozzarella-like flavor. Traditionally made with raw full fat milk which is churned in an iron pot and then curdled with sour milk, modern techniques like this one (swipe to watch video) used by Himalayan Products in Langanbal have made the process simpler and more efficient. Once the curds are formed, they are flattened by hand into what are basically “milk rotis” before being allowed to cool and dry. . Kalari is typically prepared by heating the cheese directly on a tawa and allowing it to cook in it’s own fat. Reshma, the Gujjar shepherd who invited us into her home for a meal, was kind enough to cook us some Kalari cheese pan seared in mustard oil so it’s crispy on the outside and chewy soft on the inside. . Himalayan Cheese is a local cheese factory set up by Dutchman Chris Zandee nearly 10 years ago which collects milk from over a hundred Gujjar & Bakarwal families in the Pahalgam area to make several different kinds of cheese and support the local community. Thanks @marryam for connecting us and Ramneek for making this happen! #chefontheroad #kalari #kalaricheese #himayalanproducts #himalayancheese #chriszandee #homecookedmeal #pahalgam #gujjars #valleyofshepherds #kashmirdiairies #kashmiricuisine #foodtrip #foodtravel #regionalindianfood #willtravelforfood #indianfoodmovement #indiainspiredcooking #thebombaycanteen #indiainspired #cheflife #srinagar #kashmir

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Kalari, also known as milk chapatti or maish krej, is made from cow or goat milk by the nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal community of Jammu and Kashmir. Chris Zandee, the founder of Himalayan Products, a fair trade business in Kashmir that makes artisanal cheese, including kalari, says that the mozzarella-like cheese likely “came from Central Asia”.

Come winter, thick chapati-sized discs of milky-white kalari browning and crisping on large griddles are a common sight in the state. The dense, stretchy cheese with a slightly sour taste is popular as the street snack kalari kulcha: sautéed in its fat, it is placed between two soft buns and served with sweet and spicy chutney. It can also be eaten on its own – pan-fried and served with a sprinkling of salt and chilli powder.

Qudam

Another cheese made by the Gujjar-Bakarwal community is qudam. Also called kudhan, it is prepared from goat’s milk, and is rubbery and crumbly in texture. Unlike kalari, it is rarely seen on the streets. “It doesn’t travel outside the Gujjar community at all,” said Zandee, who makes qudam only on order since it is a harder, more pungent cheese with not many takers. “It is somewhat like cottage cheese [and is] made from the whey leftovers [from making] kalari. It is left to dry using salt and is not stretchy like kalari.” The dried cheese, eaten as it is, has a longer shelf life and works as a source of protein during winters.

Churu

Tibetan Churu cheese. Photo credit: Logan/via Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution BY-SA 2.0]
Tibetan Churu cheese. Photo credit: Logan/via Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution BY-SA 2.0]

Churu is a staple in Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan, where it is called datshi. It made its way to India from Tibet. The pungent churu or shosha is made from the cream and skin that forms on top of the milk from yak or goat. It has been compared to stinky European cheeses like blue cheese and Limburger. The word churu means spoiled cheese in Nepali. According to Rinjin Dorje, author of Food in Tibetan Life, since tomatoes are mostly found in the southern parts of Tibet, churu was used there as a substitute in various dishes. In Sikkim, it is commonly used in beef stews, while the popular Bhutanese curry, ema datshi, consists mostly of chillies and melted churu.

Chhurpi

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We were told this is yak cheese, otherwise known as Tibetan chewing gum! But research indicated it is Churpi, made from solidified yogurt, that is cut into small cubes and strung on yak-hair necklaces to dry. Chewing—or more realistically sucking and scraping away—the rock-hard, smoky cubes can take several hours, making it an ideal snack for a trek! Want to taste some? It is served at an altitude of about 16,000 feet. #tibet #lhasa #tibetautonomousregion #peoplesrepublicofchina #yak #yakcheese #chhurpi #tibetanfood #chewinggum #gum #cheese #photooftheweek #photooftheday #picoftheday #pictureoftheday #snackfood #asiatravel #travel #travelgram #highaltitude #instatravel #instagood #instadaily #instalike #instaphoto #ig_tibet #himalayas #ig_worldclub #closeup

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Originating in Nepal and Bhutan, chhurpi is made from boiled buttermilk. It is similar to the Italian ricotta cheese in its soft form. Its more popular version is when it is pressed and dry-aged. In the Essential North-East Cookbook, Hoihnu Hauzel writes that chhurpi adds flavour to the daily diet of a Sikkimese household: “It’s their all-time favourite accompaniment that every home lovingly stocks. Even those who are too busy to get into the process of making chhurpi, make sure they keep reserves tucked away somewhere in the corners of their kitchens.” Fermenting seasonal vegetables and dairy products is a popular practice in this region to ensure they last the winter. The soft chhurpi, an excellent source of protein, is used as a stuffing in momos, to make chutneys creamier, and in salads and vegetable dishes. The dried, chewy chhurpi, among the hardest cheeses in the world, is a common snack, popped into the mouth and chewed for a long time, especially by the herders in the region.

Topli nu paneer

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It's appalling that after growing up with truckloads of bawa friends (many who are literally family), I had never tasted this absolutely mind-blowing gem of Parsi bhonu: Topli nu paneer. ▫▫▫ It sort of has the consistency & texture of a poached egg (I think that may be the deep ancient bawaji connect to this otherwise ridiculously veg thing) - and it's got an amazingly delicate salty flavour that's quite impossible to describe. ▫▫▫ I've no real idea how it's made except that it's set in a cane / bamboo basket or 'topli' that gives it its name. Not that I particularly care for the recipe (I'm no chef!) - and as long as Mrs.Kaikobar is around, I'm sorted anyway. ▪▪▪ #parsibhonu #parsifood #bawajisarebest #toplinupaneer #delicious #yumm #mmm #nomnom #foodofchampions #food #parsi #bawa #friendslikefamily

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Though it shares the name with the ubiquitous North Indian cottage cheese, the Parsi topli nu paneer is different in many ways. Delna Tamboly, a Parsi home chef in Mumbai, says the process of cheese-making is believed to have been introduced to the Parsi community in Surat, Gujarat, by the Dutch. The city is still home to some of the best topli nu paneer, also known as Surti paneer, in the country. Made using coagulated milk curdled using rennet instead of split milk, it is a velvety soft cheese, almost creamy in texture and consistency. Traditionally, the milk solids, separated from the whey, are set in baskets, or toplis, and resemble fresh mozzarella balls. Once an essential part of Parsi wedding menus, topli nu paneer is hardly found in the market anymore. Tamboly learnt how to make the cheese from her mother-in-law, who had picked up the skill from her neighbour. Tamboly says the only way to eat topli nu paneer is straight out of a bowl with a spoon without any accompaniments or flavouring. “It is too delicate to be cooked in any sauce or gravy,” she said. “It has a delightful, delicate salty taste that comes from the whey it is preserved in.” At the Mumbai restaurant Bombay Canteen, a large creamy dollop of topli nu paneer is served on top of their maa ki daal.