On a Sunday noon, in front of a corrugated iron sheet cottage in Moddhya Austagram village in Bangladesh, 50-year old Chhottu Miah was seen busy making cheese.
If one thinks of white-coloured, salty and soft cheese, the name of Austagram will come to mind. The home-made cheese of the area is a favourite to cheese lovers. No matter where you go, whichever country you travel to, you would not find a cheese quite like this. It is unique to Bangladesh in its flavour and consistency.
Chhottu makes cheese, which is locally called paneer, round the year. His father Sadat Ali Miah also used to make paneer.
Like Chhottu, around 15 men of the village at Austagram upazila in Kishoreganj are carrying the legacy of their ancestors' business. They make around 50 kilogrammes of cheese daily following the method of their forefathers.
"We learnt paneer making from our father. Whenever, he worked on it, all of my five brothers used to watch the process. Then, my father taught us how to make paneer," said Chhottu.
"As it is the business of my ancestors, we do not want to leave this profession," he said.
Chhottu does not sell his cheese in shops, as the shop owners do not want to give him a fair price for his cheese. He sells his cheese to some families, who are his regular customers, in Dhaka, Sylhet, Hobiganj and Brahmanbaria weekly.
"I never had to bring back unsold cheese, never ever. Moreover, the regular customers want more sometimes," said Chhottu.
Every week, he sells 15-20 kilogrammes of cheese at Tk600 and more per kilogramme.
Now, let us know how to make this unique cheese.
All about ingredients:
To make cheese in this method, you need abomasum, water, milk and salt.
Abomasum is a part of cow's intestines. Chhottu buys abomasum from butchers. After cleaning abomasum with water, he cuts it into four to five pieces. Later, he adds salt to the pieces and dries those in the sun for a week or sometimes for 15 days. Then, the abomasum becomes usable. Abomasum makes water sour.
If you soak one piece of abomasum in water, the water can be used to make eight kilogrammes of cheese out of 80 kilogrammes of milk.
"I have to buy one kilogramme of raw abomasum at Tk200. I buy these from old Dhaka. Sometimes, when a cow is slaughtered in my area, I go to the place and ask for the abomasum. They know that I need it. They give me the abomasum at free of cost," said Chhottu.
Abomasum provides rennet for the curdling process. Rennet is the ingredient in cheesemaking which coagulates the milk by means of a natural chemical reaction. Without rennet, cheese as we know it would not exist. Different types of rennet results in different types of cheese, so it is quite a vital factor.
Every morning, Chhotu and other cheesemakers gather in Austagram Boro Bazar to buy milk. The production of cheese in the area depends solely on the supply of milk. It needs around 10 kilogrammes of cow milk to make one kilogramme of cheese. How much milk they will buy depends on the price of milk. In the rainy season, the whole Austagram upazila produces around 800 litres of milk. The cheesemakers can buy half of the amount. The best time for cheese making is summer.
In summer, when the temperature rises, people avoid drinking milk. Besides, when the water of haors begins to recede, huge amount of grass grows in the field. Cows get the chance of eating fresh grass and produce more milk.
"The supply of milk rises and the price falls sharply in summer. Then we can make apple-shaped 15-20 pieces of cheese, weighing one kilogramme each, daily," said Chhottu.
The amount of salt used in the cheese depends on the taste of the customers. However, usually, an apple-shaped one-kilogramme of cheese requires around 50 grammes of salt.
How it is made:
Before starting the main part of paneer making, Chhottu soaks abomasum in four to five litres of freshwater for around 20 hours. Usually, he soaks abomasum in the evening. The next morning, he goes to the nearby Austagram Boro Bazar for collecting milk.
After bringing the milk home, Chhottu pours the milk in a large cooking pot through a strainer to remove unwanted things. Then he adds abomasum-soaked water to the milk in the cooking pot. He covers the pot with a lid and let it sit for around 30 minutes. By this time, the mixture of milk and sour water gets separated into curds and whey. Chhotu cuts the curds into pieces with a knife. He mashes the curds and squeezes those to remove water from the curds.
Then, he takes the cheese out of the pot and keeps it in a round-shaped six-inches basket.
After that, he puts pressure on the soft cheese in the basket to remove excess water. He keeps the cheese in the room till the next morning.
The following morning, he coats the cheese with a small amount of salt and inserts some salt inside the paneer by making three small holes into it.
After 24 hours, the paneer is ready for sale in the market.
"If someone eats more cheese, he or she will suffer from diarrhoea. You can eat 100 grammes of cheese daily," suggested Chhotu.