Saturday, 30 December 2017

Say Cheese! with Francois Robin and The Cheese Collective

It was the most gorgeous setting on a glorious winter day. Frenchman François Robin had invited a small group at Lodi – The Garden Restaurant to talk about all things cheese. As a cheese specialist he was awarded the Best Cheesemonger in France. This means that while he trades in a variety of cheeses, his work also involves selecting and at times even aging certain cheeses before they are sold. He also travels all over the world introducing people to different cheeses of Europe. For this workshop François teamed up with Mansi Jasani, founder of Mumbai-based The Cheese Collective. Besides being an artisanal cheese maker Mansi also curates cheese from cheese makers across India, conducts cheese appreciation and pairing workshops, makes customized platters and sets up cheese tables for events. 

The gorgeous setting at Lodi - The Garden Restaurant.

Blind Tasting
Our cheese appreciation started with a blind tasting. “You don’t necessarily need to be educated about cheese to enjoy it. Give the cheese a chance,” said François adding that cheese is not out of anybody’s reach. Although some cheeses are considered gourmet, most are not as exotic as some other foods (like foie gras, for instance). All you need to do is “find your cheese”!

“There’s a difference between eating and tasting – start with exploring the cheese, use your senses, be focused, but above all be sincere! Rely on your personal memories and go by your personal feeling,” he said as we wore the blindfold and plugged our nose with a nose clip. After blocking our senses of sight and smell a plate is placed before us with four types of cheeses placed in a circle. One by one we felt each piece of cheese for shape (rectangular, triangular and so on) hardness (hard or soft), texture (smooth, sticky or ridged), edges (does it have a rind or not) and finally tasted it.

Top: Francois Robin and Mansi Jasani.
Bottom: The table is set for blind tasting.

1. The first one was dense, semi-hard and rectangular without a rind. It was mildly salty – Comté. It is a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. It is made in discs of about 40 cm diameter and contains only 1%salt.
2. Next came a soft, creamy triangular piece of cheese with a soft rind – Camembert. It is very similar to the slightly milder, buttery Brie.
3. The salty, sticky, crumbly soft cheese without any rind turns out to be goat’s cheese – Chèvre.
4. Finally, comes the pungent cheese that is easily recognizable – Blue cheese. This one is saltier than the rest. When we remove the nose plug we can instantly smell the pungent aroma that comes from the natural fungus that grows in it.

Although I knew all the cheeses that we tasted, the blind tasting and the following discussion helped to understand them better. That’s what cheese appreciation is all about, I guess!

Simple Pairings: Comte with pomegranate molasses and naan;
Chèvre with coriander and toasted black sesame on parantha;
Brie with Gujarati aam ka chunda on French baguette;
Brie stuffed mascarpone, dried pomegranate and pistachios.

Cheese Trivia
- Cheese is a milk concentrate thus it’s colour can tell the type of milk it is made with. Cow’s milk is usually yellow while goat’s and buffalo’s is white.  
- While there are no rules as such for a cheese tasting, always start with milder flavour and progress to the more intense ones.
- To know if it'll melt well press it between your fingers. If it's soft and sticky or greasy it will melt evenly. That’s why parmesan cheese is usually grated on top of dishes since it doesn’t melt well. 
- Cheese is an aroma catcher. So do not place with very strong smelling foods in the refrigerator.

Simple Rules For Pairing Cheese
- Whatever you pair a cheese with, do not over power its flavour with other ingredients and ensure that cheese remains the star. 
- Balance of sweet and savoury flavours is important. You can, however, find your own balance according to personal preference.
- Add various textures to enjoy cheese to the fullest – think fresh fruits, dried fruits, crackers, nuts, chutneys and preserves. The options are limitless. Just have fun!

Pairing European Cheeses with Indian Food
-       We tried the Comte with pomegranate molasses and naan bread. Since the cheese is not very sharp, the acidity can be added with a pomegranate/balsamic glaze.
-       The Brie is paired with a Gujarati pickle called chunda, made with shredded mango, chilli and sugar, atop a crunchy French baguette.
-       The goat cheese is mixed with fresh coriander, placed on mini paranthas and sprinkled with toasted black sesame.

And remember: cheese is shareable and best enjoyed with close friends. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

This Is Why You Must Attend the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2018

L-R: Festival Co-Directors William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale with
Sanjoy K. Roy, MD of Teamwork Arts the producers of ZeeJLF.

While literary festivals are all the rage now, the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival was launched 11 years ago and is said to have inspired 125 other festivals! While ZeeJLF is becoming bigger and better with each passing year, the word ‘Jaipur’ in the title does not limit it to the Pink City - the festival is now hosted annually at international locations such as London and Boulder, Colorado.

Coming back to the forthcoming festival in Jaipur, it is scheduled from 25-29 January 2018 at Diggi Palace Hotel. The curtain raiser for the same was hosted at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi for the fourth consecutive year. The hotel chain has a long association with the festival since the inimitable Taj Rambagh Palace was the venue for some events right from the inaugural year and still hosts many delegates to come from all over the world to attend what is popularly known as the “Kumbh of Literature”.

This year, the Festival will host over 350 writers, thinkers, politicians, journalists and popular cultural icons from over 35 nationalities, representing over 15 Indian and 20 international languages as well as major awards such as the Nobel Prize, the Man Booker, the Pulitzer Prize, the Padma Vibhusan and the Sahitya Akademi Award.

Festival Co-Directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple alongwith Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, which produces the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, unveiled the list of speakers and shared the highlights of the festival. While Dalrymple stated that no other literature festival is entirely free Gokhale is proud of the fact that at this festival international writers come and listen to Indian writers. Over the years they carefully whet out the list of writers and speakers and this year we can expect myriad topics as author and filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir will take part in a candid conversation with musical maestro Zakir Hussain; Philip Norman, author of biographies on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elton John, will recollect anecdotes from the Beatles’ famed 1968 visit to India; Bollywood royalty Sharmila Tagore will speak to her daughter, Soha Ali Khan, who has authored a witty memoir titled The Perils of Being Moderately Famous; the sassy septuagenarian Shobhaa De, with her characteristic charisma and irreverence, will discuss turning 70, the subject of her latest book; and, columnist Vir Sanghvi will regale festival-goers with his refined palate on the unlimited potential of food.

Literature is an infectious form of magic, and shared stories and narratives reinforce our human bonds and understanding,” said Gokhale. Talking about the changing literary scene of the country, she added that over the years the translation scene has imporved drastically allowing increased participation of regional Indian authors.

Amongst the international authors visting this year, we are particularly excited about Michael Ondaatje of English Patient fame, Amy Tan who shared an immigrant experience in the bestselling Joy Luck Club, the Afghani writer Hamid Karzai who wrote Kite Runner, children’s favourite Julia Donaldson for creating Gruffalo, Pico Iyer who will talk of his travels and life lessons and Helen Fielding of chick-lit series Bridget Jones, besides many others.

The forthcoming edition of ZeeJLF thus promises to be a literary extravaganza where we will celebrate wonderful writing, meet authors, enjoy soul-stirring music and come away all the more richer!