Bandel Cheese ~ The Taste of Portugal in Bengal
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 !!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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).