New Delhi: Bandel, a neighbourhood in the Hooghly district, used to be home to a distinct dairy delicacy named after the place. The locals called it Bandel Cheese, and food enthusiasts may have heard of it. This fresh cheese is made of cow's milk using a method that is said to be at least 500 years old. Introduced by the Portuguese, this cheese is made from Chhena (cottage cheese) into small crumbly discs about an inch in diameter and a quarter of an inch in thickness.
Bandel Cheese has two varieties — smoked Bandel Cheese and plain Bandel Cheese. They both have their own distinct flavours.
Ironically, this cheese is now no longer produced in Bandel. A handful of families near West Bengal's Arambagh are engaged in the cheese-making process and they sell it to a couple of shops in Kolkata's New Market, according to a report in The Telegraph.
With dwindling sales, Bandel Cheese is becoming a tough model for revenue generation and the makers of this cheese are looking for an alternative source of income.
Palash Ghosh, from Chak Chand village, is one of the last surviving Bandel cheesemakers. He has been forced to take up the job of a night watchman. During the lockdown, Palash had to throw away as many as 12,000 cheese discs as their suppliers had shut shop.
"I will just make Bandel cheese for another month or so like my father and our ancestors have been doing for centuries and it makes him happy still," Palash Ghosh told celebrity chef Ranveer Singh Brar, who has now started a petition on Change.org demanding a geographical identification (GI) tag for Bandel Cheese.
According to Brar, the GI tag will help keep the local delicacy alive and protect the age-old craft from getting lost.
"Palash is desperately trying to continue and sustain the artisanal Bandel Cheese, fresh cheese made using a technique that’s at least 500 years old," Ranveer Singh Brar's petition reads.
"Through this petition I also call upon Amazon, Blinkit, Big Basket and all the leading online grocery stores that have made in-roads into millions of homes, to do their bit to help revive the Bandel cheese," the petition reads.
How Bandel Cheese Is Made
Bandel Cheese is made by separating the curd from whey with lemon juice. It is then moulded and drained in small baskets and smoked. It is known for its dry, crumbly and smoky flavour and is highly aromatic.
Both contain a high concentration of salt, which increases the shelf life. For consumption, the cheese needs to be soaked in water overnight.
How GI Tag Will Help Bandel Cheese
The GI tag for the Bandel Cheese will draw interest towards the 500-year-old process of making the cheese and thereby encourage the continuation of this and similar forms of indigenous cheese-making, the petition says. Experts believe the GI tag will not only bring recognition but also help increase its marketability.
Research On Bandel Cheese
Food Technology and Biochemical Engineering Department of Jadavpur University (JU) under associate professor Dr Debabrata Bera started a scientific study of Bandel cheese in 2017, as per The Telegraph report.
The project viability is to produce Bandel cheese in a hygienic manner and in a controlled environment.
JU Professor Dr Debabrata Bera is also closely working with Dr Shovon Roy, senior scientific officer at the department of science and technology, Government of West Bengal, to obtain a GI tag for Bandel Cheese, reports Indian Express.
“We started our research on the product a couple of years ago. Apart from its historical value, Bandel Cheese is very unique in nature. But if you look at the variant that the Ghosh family has been producing, you will find that the production and the packaging can be better. Quality control can provide the product the commercial push it requires,” Dr Bera told The Indian Express.