Culinary art of
Topli na paneer

Kolkata’s rapidly-shrinking Parsi community includes a grandmother named Viloo, the only person in the city from whom you can buy Topli na Paneer or Parsi cheese. These semi-soft balls of cheese, made with full-cream, unpasteurised buffalo milk are very similar to mozzarella in taste and texture and get their name from the small wicker baskets (topli) in which they are set. Each snow-white rounded surface comes lightly embossed with the impression of the Topli.

Viloo learnt the art of cheesemaking from her mother-in-law, imbibing certain critical skills along the way: to know whether the milk is warm enough to introduce the rennet just by dipping in a finger; the art of carefully moving the curd to one side of the pan before it is scooped into the baskets; being able to intuitively judge that the cheese is ready to be unmoulded. Soon after she began cheesemaking, orders came flooding in, mostly from within the community.

Viloo has been making and selling cheese in Kolkata for over 30 years, all the while witnessing the rapid decline in numbers of the once large and vibrant Parsi community. Their count is down to 500, but this close-knit, resilient group is far from moribund.

The milk for Viloo’s cheese is sourced from the neighbouring Pure Milk Emporium, one of Kolkata’s long-standing outlets for fresh milk. The little handmade cane baskets come from the cane shops in nearby New Market. Topli na Paneer remains a hit at the Parsi Food Festival held in January every year and forms an integral part of traditional wedding meals.


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