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Palash Ghosh – One of the last Bandel Cheese makers churning the historic delicacy

2 March, 2021 16:45:12
Palash Ghosh – One of the last Bandel Cheese makers churning the historic delicacy

Palash Ghosh is the last of the Mohicans who continues to guard the secret recipe of world famous Bengal’s Bandel Cheese. He belongs to the only family of cheese makers who have held on to their secret gourmet art down generations, instead of looking into the profitable part of the same. He still makes the delicious discs of Bandel cheese for the connoisseurs and supply the product to select shops in New Market for selling. Ghosh comes across as a simple, down-to-earth man who prefers his anonymity, working diligently away from public glare. He is even reticent to share details about his family or himself on any platform or social media.

After much prodding and assurances, Ghosh opened up and shared his passion for his profession. He was born into a family of cheese-makers and witnessed his grandfather producing the highest quality specialty cheese. After his demise, Palash’s father took the reins of the family business as other siblings were not interested to carry on the craft and now Palash himself has been involved in cheese making for almost two decades.  In his words: ‘I do not know but presume my family has been in this craft for centuries now. In the past, the Portuguese settlers had probably taught my ancestors the entire cheese-making process and it must have been very popular and profitable for the family. That is the reason why they continued the craft of making cheese.’

Ghosh opened up and shared his passion for his profession. He was born into a family of cheese-makers and witnessed his grandfather producing the highest quality specialty cheese. After his demise, Palash’s father took the reins of the family business as other siblings were not interested to carry on the craft and now Palash himself has been involved in cheese making for almost two decades.

Bandel Cheese happens to be one of a kind gourmet variety of cheese that’s lapped up by cheese aficionados the world over. It is hand-crafted cheese made by expert cheese makers of Bandel, the town in Hooghly district that was once a Portuguese settlement. The Portuguese introduced Chhena (cottage cheese) and salt-cured Bandel cheese to India. Primarily utilizing a procedure that is at least 500 years old, Bandel Cheese originally was a fresh cheese made of cow’s milk curdled with lemon juice and was then preserved in saltwater to lengthen the shelf life of this otherwise fresh cheese. However, it took the Portuguese some time to realize the fact that these didn’t last very long on their own, and so, the little round balls would be smoked to give them some flavour and increase their shelf life too, so that they could be carried during long sea voyages. 

The Portuguese mariners employed locals from Chittagong as cooks and these seafarers also known as ‘mowg’ cooks, developed a taste for the new cheese and carried them along during their long voyages for their long shelf life. They soaked the cheese overnight in freshwater to get rid of some of the brackish taste and also to hydrate the cheese a bit to get rid of the springy texture and infuse the creaminess in the cheese. Available in two varieties — plain (white in colour) and smoked (brown in colour) — the briny Bandel cheese comes in small discs. The cheese is made by separating the curd from whey and then molded and drained in small baskets and smoked. Bandel cheese is known for its dry, crumbly and smoky flavor. 

Palash himself has perfected the art and his product is in great demand. Although Bandel cheese was initially a niche food, over the years, home chefs and menu consultants have warmed up to it and foodies in India are jubilant to discover the unique taste of this home-made cheese. In fact, both versions of the cheese (plain and smoked) still compete with global heavyweights like the Danish blue cheese and Dutch edam and not to mention the ever-popular cottage cheese (paneer).

Bandel Cheese happens to be one of a kind gourmet variety of cheese that’s lapped up by cheese aficionados the world over. It is hand-crafted cheese made by expert cheese makers of Bandel, the town in Hooghly district that was once a Portuguese settlement.

Palash takes great pride when he claims his product is of the highest standard because he uses pure cow milk and he himself is involved in the entire laborious process to churn out the cheese from milk. “If there is even a slightest slip during the making process, I can detect it instantly,” he says with pride. 

When asked if this is a profitable business anymore, Palash confidently affirms. In fact, before the lockdown, he says, he worked 24X7 to fulfill the rising market demand. He would make about 600 kilograms of the cheese daily and supply to shops in Kolkata. But his voice trails and he says pensively, “Those are days of yore. Who knows if I will get to see such days again….” He trails off. He was hard-hit by the sudden lockdown and says a huge quantity of cheese perished and it gave him a big financial blow. “Nowadays, the demand is picking up once again but I don’t have the confidence to accelerate production. Who knows any unforeseen circumstance or accident can thwart my venture once again. I am not a businessman with vast capital and I will not be able to pull up.”  

Considering the fact that Bandel cheese is gradually making giant leaps in both the national and international market, does he have any plan to expand his business or set up an outlet in the city? “No way,” he says. “I am a simple rustic and I seem to lose my way in a big city like Kolkata. I am happy the way I am and would continue to make the cheese the way my forefathers have done and sell it to the few specific outlets in New Market.”

With these words, the Bandel cheese aficionado bade adieu.

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