Once a dish of the nobility and elite, today we have over 200 varieties of cheese across the globe and we are not complaining. Though there isn’t a definite history of the first cheese that is traceable, one thing is clear is that the Europeans know their way around cheese more than anyone else. While Romans were the pioneers of the technique and skill, the refinement can be accredited to the Europeans. 

Here’s one such story of cheese that reach the Indian subcontinent way back in the 16th century. The well-known Portuguese traveler Vasco Da Gama made his way to our country, carrying with him the skill and knowledge of making cheese. The question is where did he arrive? In the heart of Bengal, along the shores of river Hooghly, which soon saw several Portuguese settlements taking place. Bandel was the area where the art and production of cheese-making made its debut. The word Bandel translates into port, a derivation of a local word called bondor and this makes sense as the settlers paved the way for their establishments along the rivers. Thus, began the era of Bandel cheese. 

How was the cheese prepared?

Firstly, an interesting point to note here is that splitting milk was considered a taboo and marked as an unholy practice by the orthodox of the Hindu community. Yet the Portuguese were able to make cheese-making a popular art in the region, which lives on till date. Separating the curd from whey using lemon juice was largely the method that was followed. For giving a circular shape to the cheese, it was stored in perforated pots and preserved using salt. The art then travelled places with the Burmese chefs on the ship called mogs, who were really fascinated with the idea of this kind of cheese and gave it its present form. 

What is Bandel cheese like? 

Source: The Good Food Bro/Instagram

The crumbly and dry texture of this unripened cheese variety is what makes it so similar to feta. Overtime, people devised a smokey version of the cheese so you had a plain Bandel cheese which was milky white and disc-shaped and the smoked cheese that differed only in terms of the outer brownish crust that kept the milky white cheese hidden in its fold. However, both were equally salty and made from cow milk. From salads to pastas and risottos, this Bandel cheese perfectly complements each dish. 

The Portuguese were followed by the French and the British but the remnants of Bandel cheese is what draws the links between the European colonizers. In fact, today the availability of Bandel cheese has become very skewed. Since the production of this variety of cheese shifted to Tarakeshwar and Bishnupur, you would find this cheese on the shelves of just two stores in Kolkata, namely Mallick and Sons and J. Johnson in the city’s New Market area. 

Mind you, this isn’t your melted pizza cheese. It is highly salted so it is recommended to soak overnight to remove the excess salt and also make the otherwise dry cheese, a little moist and hydrated. 

Now if you thought the Portuguese just introduced us to tomatoes, here’s another addition to the list.