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Fresh Italian Cheese Made In India

It always surprises foreigners to know that India doesn’t have a tradition of making cheese. We have yoghurt and we have paneer, fresh cottage cheese made by splitting milk and then straining it through a fine muslin cloth in traditional homes, but other than that, zilch. That possibly has something to do with injunctions in Hinduism against curdling milk. Even paneer, so popular in vegetarian Indian cooking, is of recent vintage: It is not found anywhere in southern India, where traditions are more dearly held on to, and in many parts of north India, at least in the cuisine, as it used to be as late as 50 years ago.

I am mentioning all this so that you understand why it is so tough to come by decent cheese in India: Amul is the favourite brand, but it is processed cheese that India understands by the term. Yet, some new beginnings are being made. Mozzarella for your pizzas is now fairly easy to come by and many farms off New Delhi, Pune and Bangalore now supply other fresh varieties to hotels and restaurants across the country, substituting for the otherwise expensive imported ingredients. Most recently, we visited Med, a new restaurant at the Radisson in New Delhi, near the airport, and were pleasantly surprised to find Italian style cheese (Feta, Boccaccino, some fairly good goat cheese) being used in the restaurant that has actually been made at the Flanders dairy in Gurgaon.

Chef Giovanni places correct emphasis on the freshness of ingredients, highlighting individual flavours rather than complicated presentations. And he is taking pains to source most of his ingredients locally—not just the herbs, veggies and meats but also the cheeses. “I visited the Flander’s farm and told them how to make what I wanted, they are doing a fairly good job and supply to my kitchen,” he says, serving us a simple but delicious boccacino and ripe tomatoes salad as a starter.

Actually Med serves not just food from Italy but all parts of the Mediterranean, as its name suggests, including France, Spain, Italy and Morocco and what we eat during the course of this meal are not just some wonderful cheesy dips (goats cheese and rocket leaves blended together, accompanied by fresh, crusty bread) pizzas and pastas (hand made by the chef) but also tapas, paellas and what is possibly the best tagine in town.

The look of the restaurant is like that of a Spanish courtyard: Dark hues of ochre, yellow and blue liven up the space and there are separate areas for a lounge (the tapas lounge) where you can have a drink and more formal dining. The restaurant is decorated by some unique wine paintings and there is an enomatic machine at a corner to pour out small tasting measures of wine for a guest to help them choose better. The machine helps store wine bottles better and is now quite a favourite with restaurants in India.

Chef Giovanni is of the belief that the emphasis in a restaurant should be on creating “wow” recipes that a diner will not otherwise be able to make himself at home. The food he serves us is largely in keeping with this philosophy. The tapas are excellent and the chef serves up a mix of all-time favourites (fried calamari) and stuff that he has innovated upon, including simple enough preparations like cheese dabbed with a little sweet and tangy syrup, stuffed jalapenoes as also Gorgonzola cheese wrapped in roasted bacon & drizzled with balsamic drizzle.
The hand crafted pasta that I sample—with truffles in it—is subtle and not for those who’d prefer their penne Arabiatta. I am a little disappointed by the paella served as the main course. Though the portion is huge — it comes in a “wok” like platter, this one is just a little too bland. The Tagine, on the other hand, served with Arabic flat bread and a Cous Cous salad more than makes up for that. There are vegetarian, chicken and seafood versions available—all served in a typical Tagine pot, a conical contraption used by Arab nomads to make their stew (the pot is sealed and the ingredients cook in their own juices after flavouring has been added to them). The “masala” that the chef uses for the chicken version is superb. A must try

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