Hidden gem in the heart of the city – Parsi cheese
Parsi cheese, also known as ‘topli na paneer’, is an off-beat cheese that is not sold off-the-shelves in our local grocery stores or super markets. Like everything special, this too has its own charm.
It looks and taste like mozzarella and is made with fresh, full-cream milk but it has an interesting ingredient in it – the Rennet pills. These expensive tablets are added to the boiled milk and allowed to settle for sometime after which the cheese is scooped out and placed in tiny hand-made wicker baskets (topli) for a few minutes.
This is done so that the impression of the basket is delicately embossed on each surface of the slightly salty but smooth Parsi cheese and also for the cheese to drain out the whey.
For a moment, the cheese looks like freshly made curd but once it reaches the taste-buds, you realize the sheer joy of getting to taste something so overpowering that you almost forget you are eating cheese.
Beacon Kolkata was delighted to meet Mrs. Viloo Batiawala, a member of Kolkata’s rapidly-shrinking Parsi community and also one of the few sellers of Parsi cheese in town. At 73 years of age, this woman is a symbol of grace and empowerment. Nestled in her ancestral home in the heart of the city, she makes her ‘basket cheese’ few times a week and has regular customers who she knows by name, flocking to her house to get their stock of the Indian Parsi cheese, at a reasonable price. She also delivers to Sienna café where they include the cheese in many dishes after adding their own ingredients to it and giving it another fancy name.
Everything about Mrs. Batiawala has an old world charm. From her house to the fact that she refuses to use a mobile phone and still jots down names and numbers on paper. It was fascinating to know how she picked up the skill of making Parsi cheese from her mother-in-law and excelled in the dying art only to provide us with this rare beauty. Her zeal towards her work is palpable when she says that “the milk is delivered early in the morning and I start the preparations almost immediately.”
Apart from the Parsi cheese being a famous delicacy at Parsi weddings, it is a favourite among many Marwaris in Kolkata, who order in bulk for their social gatherings. It is also a huge hit in Mumbai.
Expert advice: “the Parsi cheese is meant to be eaten alone, the way it is and should be consumed within 2-3 days of purchase.” – Mrs. Batiawala “You can add a few things to the cheese, like olive oil, almonds, jeera, pepper, etc or eat it with a cracker biscuit too.”