Mansi Jasani is the perfect example of following one’s passion so hard that it never feels like you’re working. Utter the word cheese, and her face breaks into a smile. A true turophile, she has a nose for any and can deep-dive into every conversation that revolves around cheese. Canta Dadlaney converses with this dynamic cheese connoisseur, and discovers the nuances of making scrumptious cheese…
Mansi Jasani is no ordinary entrepreneur. A woman with drive, passion and confidence, her journey with cheese began with an affinage internship at Murray’s Cheese in New York. Ever since, she has been constantly learning about cheese and, as she puts it, mongering through her experiences at cheese conferences and festivals in the US, Italy and France. From hosting cheese workshops to a co-authored chapter on India for The Oxford Companion to Cheese, Mansi is all about the cheese and the ideas as well as the ingredients that go with it. What she loves the most is to share the story of cheese and find the next unique pairing.
In a chat with Hashtag Magazine, she opens up about her beginnings, what makes the perfect cheese, and how she believes India has taken to the cheese phenomenon.
Why cheese? How did the interest arise? Did you ever think you would make a successful career out of it?
I realised it was the one ingredient that made me extremely happy! I was willing to do what it takes to make cheese and share other curated cheese with a curious audience. The turning point was in 2011 when I did a 3-day cheese bootcamp of trying more than 65 varieties of cheese at Murray’s Cheese in New York and after that people around me were ‘cheesed out’ but I could still go on. A moment in time for me for I knew instantly that this was it.
How did your family react to you being the first ever, to opt for such a career?
Aah, yes, I am the first amongst jewellers and architects who has been so ridiculously passionate about this one ingredient but they were and have been very supportive. I guess they were glad to see a maverick, and today, they love having a cheesemonger a phone-call away!
Cheese is universal and must be bought and enjoyed in small quantities. Buying it in bulk and freezing it is a complete ‘no-no’. Cheese should be bought fresh, just like fresh bread and vegetables.
When you returned from New York, did you, at that point, feel that India was ready for your ‘cheese offerings’?
Honestly, no. Not in 2012 when I returned but there’s been a slow but marked shift in the habits of gastronomes and today, we have a large number of cheesemakers and cheese lovers. Infact, even special occasions like a Raksha Bandhan or Diwali which are all about traditional Indian sweets now indulge in appetizing cheese plates and cheese baskets to celebrate the occasions. So, yes, the tide has changed (smiles).
How many varieties of cheese do you work with? Is your cheese more expensive beyond the everyday varieties in stores?
We make cream cheese and goat cheese in plain and different flavours. Artisanal cheese is an expensive affair. A lot of effort and care is involved in the making of this cheese, and you also have to consider the ageing process. It’s an incredible amount of work and time-consuming process. We don’t use any preservatives. Artisanal cheese, whether Indian or imported, carry a long-time tradition, so yes, they are more expensive than the everyday cheese in stores. Dairy has been a big part of the Indian diet, but apart from a few indigenous varieties of cheese, condiments such as paneer, kalari and bandel have always taken centrestage.
Do you believe cheese has any health benefits?
Good milk makes good cheese. It’s crucial to have good clean milk. One may have the best cheese recipe but if the milk is bad or not the right kind then it is impossible for the cheese to turn out right. All the goodness of good milk is captured in artisanal and natural cheese and rest assured, it has all the benefits of milk.
Catering for Filmfare: “We had just started our journey and this opportunity was part of the Filmfare awards invite. It sure was exciting to think that many of my favourite people in the film industry might have tasted my cheese. The truth is, such occasions are inundated with a range of such hampers & gifts so while the initial adrenalin rush is there, you need to look ahead and prepare yourself for bigger things.”
How do you plan on furthering this journey with cheese?
It’s been a little more than a decade in the world of cheese but, I am nowhere near satiated. There’s still a lot to learn. We do have cheese 101 and cheese pairing experiences, and if the person is passionate enough then we’d do it for free. We have done cheese tastings at college festivals and schools, and it is a good way to introduce people to a new, improved cheese experience.
How does a cheesemonger unwind?
There’s always a lot on our plate, quite literally. We ourselves are our best competition. We make and curate from the heart and that’s what sets us apart. We want to stick to those standards. But I also do find time to break free from it all now and then. I am passionate about traditional Indian cuisine, and seed preservation. I indulge in immersive travelling and love all things South Korean and history as well.
HOW TO SET UP A CHEESE BOARD AT HOME
- Choose your board/platter (wood, glass, ceramic, slate, marble)
- Choose the cheese (keep in mind a variety of taste, milk and texture)
- Dried fruits & nuts
- Seasonal fruits and berries
- Preserves, jams and honey
- Crackers and breads (plain crackers and a baguette are good options)
- Flowers and herbs for decoration