2012

Grate Expectations: A profile of cheesemaker Karl Kothavala

Karl Kothavala Say Cheez MumbaiMost people have ice cubes in their ice tray. Karl Kothavala’s ice tray contains frozen cubes of a lactobacillus-rich, cheese starter culture. The culture, says Kothavala, looking adoringly at the frozen cubes like a proud father, has been growing stronger and stronger from the day it was first made.

As has Say Cheez, his two-month old artisanal cheese-making business.The 36-year old, who runs a highly successful GPS business, supplying GPS devices to logistics and transport companies, had always wanted to run a food business. The dream finally took shape three months ago when, “at three in the morning, I called over Rashmin Sayani, my business partner and said ‘let’s make cheese’. I pulled out my grandmother’s recipe for mascarpone and by 4 a.m, the cheese was ready to be set.”

The first batch, not surprisingly, was a disaster. But 15 litres, a couple of YouTube videos and about a month later, Kothavala was satisfied with the results. “I compared my mascarpone with the imported brand Zanetti and it had the same silky texture and a lovely natural, dairy flavour.”

His first customer Mehernosh Khajotia who runs Celebrations Fine Confections, a high-end patisserie and confectionery in South Mumbai, loved the mascarpone. “He made an absolutely dreamy tiramisu for my father’s birthday using my mascarpone,” recalls Kothavala. There was no turning back after that.

Sampling sessions with restaurants like Indigo, Five and FBar translated into immediate orders; newer clients like Aurus as well as Bungalow 9 are finalising the contracts. Kothavala was extremely touched when Nitin Kulkarni, executive chef of Indigo, stood up and congratulated him on the quality of his cheese. The chefs also suggested that he expand his portfolio of cheeses and so he turned to Sayani’s wife Jeena, a qualified microbiologist.

Armed with an array of test tubes and thermometers, she created a cheese culture in his kitchen, which he could use to curdle the milk or cream for a Philadelphia-style cream cheese or crème fraiche — a sour cream-like cheese. Both cheeses were an almost instant hit and volumes had to be stepped up. Old friend Israel Harrington was roped in as a third partner with the sole responsibility for the mascarpone production.

“Today, we make just three fresh cheeses, but I’d love to make aged cheeses like brie, camembert and Roquefort,” says Kothavala with an earnestness in his voice that suggests he’ll be his own best customer. Until he does, the response he’s already received is good enough reason for him to say ‘cheese’.

Published HT Cafe June 20, 2012

Read the print version here

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