Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), Food, General > Bandel Cheese ~ The Taste of Portugal in Bengal

Bandel Cheese ~ The Taste of Portugal in Bengal

Bandel Cheese

The Taste of Portugal in Bengal

Also see: My travelogue on Bandel

Small discs of about a inch in diameter, they come in white and brown colours, they are the Bandel cheese and are available only in a couple of shops in Calcutta’s not so new New Market !!!!!

Bandel Cheese, Plain (White) and Smoked (Brown)

Bandel Cheese, Plain (White) and Smoked (Brown)

Originating from the erstwhile Portuguese settlement of Bandel (about 50 km north of Calcutta) the Bandel Cheese is perhaps the last traces of Portuguese cuisine in Bengal.

Bandel Cheese (Plain Version)

Bandel Cheese (Plain Version)

The Portuguese influence in Bengal dates back to the late 16th century. Almost a century after Vasco da Gama reached the West Coast of India the Portuguese started making their inroads into Bengal. Soon settlement started growing up along the rivers and the area around present day Hooghly became the Portuguese stronghold. By 1599 a church was constructed on the banks of the Hooghly at Bandel, making it the oldest Christian Church of West Bengal.

Although the Portuguese were among the earliest of the Europeans to arrive in India and also in Bengal they were never successful in establishing a stronghold in Bengal and even in India they were only restricted to the pockets of Goa, Daman and Diu.

Bandel Cheese (Plain Version)

Bandel Cheese (Plain Version)

It was the probably the Portuguese who introduced the art of cheese making in Bengal and in spite of all odds the technique have survived over centuries. The Bandel Cheese introduced by the Portuguese was probably made by the Mog (Burmese) cooks under the Portuguese supervision.

Today the shopping mall revolution is sweeping Calcutta and its suburbs pushing old establishment like the New Market to the back foot. But the New Market, or the Stuart Hogg Market as it is formally known as, still enjoys the monopoly of certain products and items, and Bandel Cheese is definitely tops this list.

Bandel Cheese, Smoked Version

Bandel Cheese, Smoked Version

Today the production of Bandel Cheese have shifted from Bandel to Tarakeshwar (Hooghly) and Bishnupur (Bankura). This variety of unripened cheese is made from cows milk and comes in two versions plain and smoked. First the the curd is extracted from the cows milk by using lemon juice. The cheese is then shaped and drained in perforated pots.

The plain variety is of milk white colour and comes in disc shapes of about an inch diameter and quarter of inch thickness.  The smoked variety comes in the same shape and size but has a crispy brownish crust covering the soft milk white interior.

Both the version of the Bandel Cheese is well salted, which allows it to be stored for a long period of time with out refrigeration. Bandel Cheese is said to go well with salads, pastas and risotto, but those planning to eat it raw must soak it in water overnight to get rid of the salt.

Today the Bandel Cheese is only available in two stores of the New Market. J Johnson and Mallick & Sons, both of whom have been selling Cheese for generations, continue to sell both versions of the Bandel Cheese. Stacked in glass boxes both the versions of the humble Bandel Chesse still compete with global heavy weights like the Danish Blue Cheese and Dutch Edam and not to mention the ever popular cottage cheese (paneer).

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  1. October 2, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Thank you for this informative article. Bandel cheese is the precursor to the very Bengali “chhana” and the incorrectly named “paneer”. India did not have a tradition of cheese-making until the advent of the Portuguese – notice that there is no reference to cheese or whey in the diet of our dairy-loving Krishna, who otherwise loved to eat cream and butterballs as a child. “Paneer’ is derived from “peneer”, which is Farsi for feta cheese and not any more related to “chhana” or “paneer” than, say, brie. Any chance we can get a more precise recipe of Bandel cheese so that it can be made at home? Or better still, what can we do to enable the cheese-makers of Tarakeshwar and Bishnupur, or perhaps M/s J Johnson or Mallick & Sons export this as the premium product that it truly deserves to be. No reason for Bandel cheese to be humble – its taste matches the best in the world. :-)

    • Bhaskar
      October 3, 2013 at 11:18 AM

      Hey, I live abroad and such varieties of cheese, smoked and non-smoked are freely available outside India. India does not have a strong cheese culture ( despite Amul), but the rest of the world does. One is spoilt for choice. So, exporting Bandel cheese from India, won’t work.

      • October 3, 2013 at 11:14 PM

        Dear Bhaskar, proper packaging and appropriate marketing strategies can do wonders.

        I believe Bandel Cheese does have export potemtial.

    • October 3, 2013 at 11:10 PM

      Dear Ashutosh, thanks for your long and enlightening comment. Although India and Bengal never had a strong cheese culture but still Bandel Cheese can compete with the global heavy weights.

      I do have plans of documenting the Bandel cheese making process, hope to share it in my blog soon.

  2. Marianne Cranenburgh
    October 2, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Would love the recipe forthis beautiful cheese! Where in Australia can this be bought?

    • October 3, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      Thanks Marianne for the comments.

      I like the smoked version raw. It goes well with salads and pasta, just crumble and add it.

      • Marianne Cranenburgh
        October 4, 2013 at 3:51 AM

        Thanks Rangan. I noted that you mentioned that you will be posting the process of Bandel cheese making. Look forwarding to receiving this. Thanks for the updates. I have so far not tasted anything like bandel cheese, some may come close but not as good :

  3. Pia
    October 2, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    The white unsmoked does not last without refrigeration. The smoked cheese is dehydrated and can be last a long time. It is hydrated before use.

    I grew up believing it was goat’s milk cheese. Some food specialist from the Middle East specially asked for this Bandel cheese. Can you throw any light on this?

    • October 3, 2013 at 11:01 PM

      Thanks Pia for the comments and suggestion.

      I think both the varieties of last long without refrigeration, the reason is excess salt content. This is why Bandel Cheese needs to be soaked overnight.

      Its a cow’s milk cheese, quiet likely as most of the milk products of Bengal are made out of cow’s milk.

      No idea why food specialist from Middle East ask for Bandel Cheese. I have no idea of the use of Bandel Cheese outside Calcutta.

  4. October 3, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    yummy :)

    • October 3, 2013 at 11:12 PM

      Its really yummy

      • October 9, 2013 at 5:06 PM

        Indian producers lose in the world market because they are not protected by patent rights. For the sake of the producers that depend on this cottage industry for their livelihood, I shall request not to publish the procedure of processing Bandel cheese on the digital media before the producers’ rights are ensured

  5. Lorraine French-Skinner
    October 3, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Thanks Rangan, this post brought back wonderful memories of our visits to the New Market, the highlight always being a visit to the Bandel Cheese shop. The salesman never failed to remember our requirements, all nicely wrapped in banana leaves. I preferred the smoked ones which i find very similar to English Wensleydale or the French Chabichou Poitou (Sheep/goat milk).

    • October 3, 2013 at 11:06 PM

      Thanks Lorraine, the banana leaves have long been replaced by newspapers.

      Smoked ones are definitely the preferred ones, thnks of comparing the humble Bandel Cheese with the global heavy wights.

  6. October 4, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    ‘Sweet’ article …..

  7. Sreerupa Majumdar
    October 4, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Thank you Rangan for spreading the word about our much loved Bandel Cheese…it sure deserves the publicity it’s getting;

    • October 4, 2013 at 9:38 AM

      Thanks Sreerupa, Bandel Cheese needs publicity.

  8. Deepankar Bhattacharjee
    October 4, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    I too have never heard about it until you brought it here.Cheese is a very one of the very delicious item as I feel.But smoked cheese should be greeted by people otherwise.Now the first thing is to collect it and try out.Thanks again Rangan Datta.

    • October 4, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      Thanks Deepankar. Bandel cheese, especially the smoked version, is a must try.

  9. S. Suchindranath Aiyer
    October 7, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    New Market was a fascinating place for finding all sorts of things in my distant youth when I was Officer-in-Charge (Foreign Exchange and Credit) with Punjab National Bank’s New Market Branch on Lindsay Street. The tobacconists, their pipes and cigars were particularly note worthy and had no equal in any other City in India. These were the days when I used to walk to work and back from Hazra Road, tip toeing over the recumbent forms of Bangla Deshi refugees sleeping on the side walk on Chowringhee and often ran the gauntlet of the Free School Street pimps who tried to pull you in physically to see and sample their wares, to sip a Bloody Mary at Trincas while puffing a Gymkhana Number 3 and listening to Usha Iyer’s baritone on my way home after a hard day’s work.

  10. indrani
    October 7, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    Very interesting. Noting this down to pick it up.

    • October 17, 2013 at 9:53 AM

      Hi Indrani, do pick it up when you are in Calcutta.

  11. Maodhóg
    October 7, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    Hello Rangan, my name is Maodhóg. I recently sent an email to you. I was wondering if you could reply to me as soon as possible. Thanks :)

    • October 17, 2013 at 9:57 AM

      Hi Maodhog, we are in touch via email. Looking for a long lasting relation with you.

  12. Neel
    October 11, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    An interesting read this was. Nice blog. Few years ago, food historian wrote that the Portuguese were the ones to introduce cream cheese/chenna in Bengal.

    • October 17, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      You are right Neel. Portuguese were never able to set their political and business stronghold in India, but their influence on Indian food (rather Bengali food) is huge.

      Potatoes and chilies were also introduced by the Portuguese.

  13. February 13, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Discovered this city secret a short while ago. Thanks for writing on this. It was a wonderful read, Mr Dutta.

  14. May 31, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Although I really like the fact that you have been promoting Bandel Cheese, please note: There are more than two places in New Market which stocks Bandel cheese apart from the ones you noted, about 5-6 places in all. The rounds of the cheese are available in both plain and mature form, and can be crumbled on top of salads or stuffed in paratha. In taste, it is quite similar to a smokey feta cheese, and soaking it overnight gets rid of the saltiness, but also most of the smokey flavors. I prefer washing it once in buttermilk before adding to food, and placing very thin slices of it over crackers, and topping with a sweet chutney. My choice of poison in this generally is kooler achar, which adds a beautiful balance to the smokiness.

    • June 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      Dear Poorna Banerjee you are right several outlets in New Market sells the Bandel Cheese, I personally checked this out after your comment. I really feel proud to have knowledgeable readers like you.

      A cracker toped with Kooler acher and a slice of smoked bandel Cheese, sounds strange but I will definitely try this out.

      Also will the washing of the Bandel Cheese with butter milk get rid of its saltness???

      Finally a big thank you for enlightening me on Bandel Cheese.

  15. June 8, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    I have had bandel cheese sandwich from the time I was introduced to it by a friend some long time back . Love its smokey flavour and later tasted smoked brie which reminded me of bandel cheese though differrnt texture . Once a friend from China came for lunch and I prepared veg fruit n bandel cheese shaslik and invented my own recipe . I had put sweet peppers , pineapple bits , dates and half of each disc of bandel cheese with sweet sour and spicey sauce . It is still a hit with friends and family .

    • June 21, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      Thanks Sonali Mazumdar for the comment and also for sharing the wonderful Bandel Cheese recipe.

  1. February 28, 2014 at 3:35 AM
  2. April 12, 2014 at 5:32 AM

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