Slurrp Exclusive: In Conversation With Insha Qazi, The Dynamic Woman Behind Kashmir’s One-Of-A-Kind Cheese Café
- Jasmine Kaur
Updated : June 03, 2022 12:06 IST
We caught up with the multi-talented lady, Insha Qazi who gave Kashmir it’s most unique cheese café cum farm stay experience.
Juggling between being a mother, a professor, an entrepreneur and a foodie, Insha Qazi is the lady with multiple feathers in her hat. The dynamic personality of this Kashmiri entrepreneur has been well-translated into the interiors, ambience and overall vibe of her Cheese café. Although she admits that she’s not much of a chef herself, her inspiration for bringing this unique concept to the valley lies in the snow-clad mountains and pristine beauty of Kashmir itself. In a philanthropic attempt to promote local trade and empower the masses of the region, Insha headed out on this tricky journey, combining her design knowledge with her love for all things cheesy.
Alongside the café and home stay, Insha also envisioned a cheese factory and no wonder, it is one of the major attractions there. The woman behind this one-of-a-kind venture gets candid with us about her ups and downs, achievements and future prospects. Excerpts.
Q1. How did the design student end up becoming an entrepreneur?
I am a business student from IIM, I teach Business Analytics and 19th Century fashion at SSMD School Of Design which I also founded in 2017, the only premiere fashion school of the valley. I became an entrepreneur because entrepreneurship is all about being able to nurture new talent and get the best out of your colleagues. When you run your own business you build your own team who share the same vision as you and this is one of the most rewarding aspects about being an entrepreneur.
Q2. What’s the story behind the unique cheese cafe that you’ve set up in Kashmir? We want to know all the whens and hows!
Ah! The story behind this unique farm stay with a small cheese factory and cafe is that, as a child I would often spend my every summer vacation in Gulmarg but I was more fascinated by the panaromic valleys of Tangmarg. My childhood memory is breathing in pine-scented air, watching glorious sunrises & gazing into starlit night skies. Tangmarg is also known as the Milk Capital of Kashmir. Almost every household has cattle and the milk is supplied to other districts like Srinagar, Baramulla and even Budgam. The village of Tangmarg is not only stunning landscapes but has the highest employment rate, high literacy rates and women are more empowered by skilled education. People are tourist friendly to an extent that they will make sure you have a cup of kehwa at their homes.
I would often see local women milking cow and making other dairy products like cottage cheese etc. I was so drawn to the local craft village, topography, history and culture of this village. That’s when we started making natural artisanal cheese by using local milk, bought from them, promoting fair & local trade and supporting social development. The site sits within 50 acres of forest, filled with endemic trees like deodar, sal, oak, pine and rhododendron. I’m a professor by work, I teach fashion & interior design at the only fashion school of the valley. I have a love for 19th century aesthetics & design. We started with a sustainable design idea and transformed the cottage in its present form with an earthy feel, inspired by 1950’s Industrial Age.
Q3. What are the kinds of cheese do you specialise in and how have you incorporated it in your menu?
We make natural artisanal cheese made from white cheddar. The flavours we experiment with are chilli, cumin, garlic etc. Then we also have Gouda made from full cream milk using the traditional recipe. The Gouda cheese is labeled and sold according to the age of cheese until vintage. Young Gouda will be softer and milder in taste. Cheddar Cheese is also one of the popular hard cheese and has a sharper taste. We have incorporated cheese as cream cheese grilled sandwiches, cheese straws, cheddar cheese biscuits, buffalo chicken cheese lasagna and on wood fired pizzas.
Q4. So we’ve heard that your cafe serves the purpose of a cheese factory, cafe and home stay. What’s your vision behind combining the three?
The main purpose & attraction of the farm stay is the authentic Swiss farm vibe you get once you enter the property. We have honey harvesting, organic farming and the cheese factor, which is a very small unit yet serves as a major attraction for the visitors.
Q5. What are the best sellers at your cafe?
The cafe right now has limited options like Wood fired pizza (local cheese), Cheese garlic sourdough breads made from wheat sourdough of naturally fermented loafs, Lamb burgers with oozing cheese, Grilled trout from local trout farm and the local dairy ice cream. These are some of the best sellers.
Q6. How well has this concept been received by tourists and locals?
We have received an overwhelming response so far, but we have decided to limit our audience and only allow customers who book for the night stay with us. We take only reservations.
Q7. Kalari cheese is quite popular in Kashmir. Would you like to shed some light on what makes it so unique?
Kalari cheese is a delicacy. It’s unique cause the Gujjar bakarwal herders are known to make this cheese and the taste of kalari prepared in three regions of state is different from each other. Sometimes, fungus grows on this and gives a unique flavour. You can stuff it in a paratha, fry and serve with array of chutneys like local walnut chutney and mint. Or you can just stir fry it with tomatoes. It is best served hot and dripping.
Q8. Cheese is often viewed as something unhealthy. Does this commonly-held belief align with your views?
Of course! Cheese is nutritious and most cheese are a good source of protein and calcium. When taken in right amount, they can promote gut health, aid weight loss, improve bone health and decrease the risk of heart diseases too. You must include cheese and dairy in your diet.
Q9. Are you chef yourself or do you handle more of the business side of the venture?
No, I’m not a chef myself, though I would love to be one day, being a foodie.
Q10. Is there any specific reason that you set up your unique cafe in the small town of Tangmarg?
Snow-clad mountains, pristine air and stunning vistas, this space lies in a remote village in Tangmarg area of the Baramulla District in Kashmir. With a view and setting like this, it seems like the ideal place to find yourself & find so much inspiration. We own this property, and while we were exploring the terrain to understand what we can do with it, we discovered this spot. Deeply-ensconced in the acres of land, we found this delicate stream idyllically floating around the circumference of this spot. This property once belonged to the Maharaja of Kashmir and apparently was a leopard haven. Endless terrain of forests & connecting beautiful waterfalls, it sits in harmony with the rich eco-system of its area and that stands as a reminder of the significance of this land. We interpreted these elements into the space planning and design and ensured maximum window openings, so that the occupants can enjoy the view at any given time. While the surface treatments have an exposed cement feel, with a gorgeous patina shining through, the pieces of furniture and accessories have a rugged, raw feel that ties the look together.
Q11. Could you share a delicious cheese-based recipe for all the cheese lovers (Read: Everyone)
Cheesy Chicken Nuggets
- 150g almonds
- 50g parmesan
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 750g chicken breast fillet, cut into 2–3cm cubes
- 250g cream cheese, cubed
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt & freshly ground black pepper.
- Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Place almonds, parmesan and paprika into the Thermomix bowl and mill for 7 sec/speed 7. Tip contents from bowl onto a plate and set aside.
- Place garlic into the bowl and chop for 2 sec/speed 7.
- Add chicken, cream cheese, egg, onion powder, salt, pepper and 50g of the milled almond mix. Blend for 15 sec/speed 8.
- Scrape down sides of bowl and around blades. Repeat blending until well minced and incorporated.
- With wet fingertips, measure one tablespoon amounts of the chicken mince and shape into nuggets. Coat nuggets well in the almond mix. It helps to have two people doing this step. (Cue hungry children.)
- Place nuggets onto lined baking tray and bake for 12 minutes.
- Turn nuggets over and bake further for 8 minutes until firm and golden.
- Serve with sauces of choice.