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Kai Ryssdal: Most people are basically familiar with the role India plays in our economic lives. You’ve got a software problem or you need help with your computer? Your call to technical support is going to get routed to Chennai or Hyderabad. Indian companies do mountains of data processing for American credit card firms. They’re trying to break into the global car market too. And a taste of India could be on its way to your kitchen table. No curry or basmati rice involved.
From New Delhi, Elliot Hannon reports.
Elliot Hannon: Gallons of milk tumble into a vat at the Flanders Dairy Plant on the outskirts of New Delhi. It’s right on the line between the packed streets of India’s capital and the plains of the neighboring state of Haryana.
From here, cheesemaker Sunil Bhu has a window on both worlds.
SUNIL BHU: This side is Delhi, so you’ll only find people. This side is Haryana, so you’ll find buffalos. A lot of buffalos.
India has more than 39 million water buffalos. They’re just like the ones in Italy whose milk is used to make the Italian delicacy mozzarella di bufala. So the Indians thought: Well, if the Italians can make mozzarella, why can’t we?
Workers at the Flanders Dairy are taking up the challenge. They use a mixture of buffalo and cow milk to make their cheese.
They shovel squeaky cheese curds into a mixer. A mass of gooey mozzarella oozes out and is sliced into small loaves of cheese. Then, they mold it into a ball and toss it into a tub of cold water before it’s packaged.
When Bhu started making cheese here more than 15 years ago, it was more of a hobby. Back then, Indians were big milk drinkers, but for the most part cheese was a novelty.
Bhu says when India’s economy took off, tastes started to change.
BHU: People have more money to spend. People definitely have more money to spend. They’re traveling, when they’re traveling they’re trying foods from other countries, so they want to come and do the same back home.
To meet this new demand, India’s hotels and restaurants have started looking for fresh mozzarella to put on their menus. But the most popular use for mozzarella here is in another food common in Italy and now, in India too.
BHU: Pizza. Mozzarella is one cheese, which is being produced in big numbers in India.
Smaller cheesemakers, like Flanders Dairy, know they can’t produce on the scale needed for mass pizza topping, so they focus on making mozzarella that can be delivered faster and more cheaply than the imported Italian stuff.
That’s starting to pay off. Bhu says the market for his products is growing 15 to 20 percent a year. To meet the demand, he’s moving to a bigger plant. That kind of success has drawn others here.
Giuseppe Mozzillo first came to India for a wedding, but when he saw the country’s mozzarella-making potential, he imported equipment from his native Italy and set up a business here. It’s called Exito Gourmet. His partner is an Indian, Puneet Gupta.
PUNEET GUPTA: In India people call milk white gold.
Exito Gourmet wants a slice of India’s pizza market, but it also has its eye on something bigger.
GUPTA: The export market, especially for buffalo mozzarella. We saw huge potential, and we thought that the margins should be OK because the buffalo milk is in abundance in India. Buffalo milk is much cheaper in India as compared to Italy.
But challenges remain. Many villages here that provide buffalo milk lack consistent electricity. So the milk has to be collected almost immediately, sometimes twice a day. The quality of the milk is sporadic. The roads are poor, so flying the packaged mozzarella across the country is the only reliable way to get it to customers in time.
Sunil Bhu puts it this way…
BHU: You’ve never got it figured out in India. You’re always learning. It’s always changing. Every day is a challenge.
After years of trial and error, Bhu says he has the recipe for cheesemaking down to a science. But, he adds, in India everything else is still an art.
In New Delhi, I’m Elliot Hannon for Marketplace.
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