Impero Cheese from Exito Gourmet

[Rating:2/5] If it’s one thing I miss(ed), it’s good cheese. India has quite a few cheese producers and Delhi has many places where one may buy imported hard cheeses, but frankly, I dare not buy the soft variety. This is based on a single experience I had at this store chain called ‘Store 18’. On moving to the cheese and butter counter, I noticed a few packets which seemed as if the cheese inside was flaking off. On closer inspection, I found that the inner surface of the packet was coated with soft cheese (the outer layer of the cheese inside), and that the packet was a bit warm to the touch. On looking around a bit, I found most packets of butter with oily stains on the covers.

Apparently, a senior retard, either one in the store management or someone on the logistics end, forgot to cater to power failures during transportation or storage, as a result of which, the stuff melts, spoils and when the power comes back on, solidifies again. Which is why I still see packets of butter at Store 18, that are covered with oily stains and hard to the touch. A hushed conversation with senior Store 18 staff confirmed this.

After this revelation, I now refuse to buy soft cheese, unless I know the retailer fairly well.

Coming to the point. I was introduced to this new brand of cheese called Impero, manufactured by a company called Exito Gourmet. They have a bunch of cheeses – Mozzarella, Pizza, Scamorza, fresh Bocconcini, fresh Mozzarella, fresh Mascarpone, fresh Ricotta and fresh Sour Cream. The problem with even commonly available varieties like Mozzarella (Amul for example, if you can call their cheese Mozzarella), is that they aren’t as fresh as you want them to be. Impero cheeses however are as fresh as you can get. Take the Impero Fresh Mozzarella for example. When I got my hands on it, it was barely 20 days old and packaged in whey, soft as can be with a marvellous texture that Amul’s cheese simply cannot rival. Even the packaged Mozzarella, which Exito Gourmet does not label as ‘fresh’ was not more than 25 days old and was far superior to the Amul variety.

Did you know all Impero cheese is manufactured right here in India. Yup, their factory is in the land of buffaloes and milk – Chandigarh! The Impero cheese brand was started by an Italian chap who after studying the conditions, chose to set up his company, Exito Gourmet, here, along with the factory. There’s also an Italian cheese master who is behind the texture and flavors of Impero cheese, which kind of guarantees that the stuff is authentic… except for the bovines perhaps.

Anyhow, as you can guess, I was delighted with this unexpected bounty. Here’s what we had for our ‘cheesy’ dinner last Friday:

  1. Tomatoes Stuffed with Mozzarella, Coriander, Pistachios and Grapes
  2. Caprese Salad
  3. Macaroni with Coriander, Garlic and Cheese
  4. Grilled Tomatoes, Onions, Coriander and Cheese on Toast
  5. Mozzarella and Scamorza Cheese Platter

… all of which washed down with some San Medin Sauvignon Blanc, which went nicely with the stuff on the table. It is rarely that I cook a complete vegetarian meal, but on this occasion, I didn’t want anything interfering with the flavor of the cheeses.

Everything tasted quite nice, but the stuffed tomatoes were terrific. You’ll need:

  1. Small Tomatoes, on the vine if possible
  2. Some Impero Fresh Mozzarella
  3. Finely chopped coriander
  4. Finely chopped garlic
  5. Chopped Pistachio Nuts
  6. Chopped Seedless Grapes
  7. Some salt and seasoning + chopped de-seeded green chilli peppers if you like.

Method:

  1. Cut off a narrow strip off the bottom of all the tomatoes (so they stand upright) and a larger slice off the top.
  2. Hollow out all the tomatoes and discard the inner pulp (use it anywhere else, but here)
  3. Crumble the Impero Mozzarella cheese and mix with the coriander, very little garlic, the pistachio nuts, grapes, green chilli peppers and seasoning.
  4. Stuff into the tomatoes
  5. Top with a nut and some coriander if desired.
  6. Serve slightly below room temperature.

Please, please don’t take dainty little bites of the stuffed tomato. Just pick up one and pop the whole thing into your mouth. Bite into it and feel the tangy tomato juice flood your mouth. A little further and you’ll find the creamy texture of the cheese interspersed with the flavors of garlic and pepper, only interrupted by the salty crunchiness of the pistachios and the sweet, crispy texture of the grape. Delicious!

We also made a slightly Indian version of a Caprese salad, with layers of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, sprinkled with very little kala namak, chat masala, salt, pepper and coriander. Yup, I’m in love with coriander these days. That was delicious too.  Do remember to take a generous sip of wine every now and then, ok?

The rest of the dishes were simple and delicious, in most part due to the generous does of cheese! I’m waiting to try out the Impero Ricotta, sour cream and Mascarpone next!

Here’s where you can buy Impero Cheese in Delhi/NCR:
Vasant Vihar market: Le Marché, Modern Bazaar
Saket: City Select Mall: Le Marché, Food Bazaar DLF mall: Le Marché
Defence Colony: The Taste, Milk Bros
Khan Market: Sugar & Spice, Bombay Pal Fruit
Jor Bagh: Steak House

Update: 22nd July 2009> I had a great cheesy weekend. Spent it at Chandigarh in the company of loads of cheese. After seeing their facilities, I’m quite sure, there aren’t many people who produce mozzarella in India quite the same way. For one the cheese master refuses to artificially acidify the milk even if it means hastening daily production. This means the coagulation process takes 3 hours instead of 30 minutes and you end up with a far more mature flavor. Exito Gourmet is probably one of the few cheese brands and mozzarella manufacturers in India following this process, if any. While the Exito Gourmet cheese plant is well automated, there’s human intervention at every step of the way where a feel for quality apart from technology is required. For example, while they have a well equipped microbiology lab (which too is something most cheese manufacturers in India don’t bother with) to test for the presence of unwanted elements, their cheesemaker tests the curd for ‘feel’ and works with a small sample of the curd before allowing production to proceed to the next step. This is truly handcrafted cheese and I’m a fan!

– Sid

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Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.