An article in The Hindu Metroplus, Coimbatore by Pankaja Srinivasan that featured Acres Wild Cheese and bits about our farm and general plan in life.
Wild about Cheese by Pankaja Srinivasan.
It is a tad difficult to reconcile the two. One, a successful Bollywood film producer/director, and the other a farmhand at home with his cows and geese. But, reconcile we must, as Mansoor Khan says he has traded in his megaphone for manure, and, his wife Tina, the Mumbai life for mucking around in the farmyard and making cheese.
Fed up with the filmi life, they sought refuge in the Nilgiris. “But, beautiful as this place is, we needed to do something. We couldn’t just do nothing,” says Tina. “Mansoor suggested I make cheese, and I was taken aback,” says Tina. But, once she did some research online and asked around, she realised cheese making was not such a daunting task, and could actually be fun. “For one, it didn’t require this huge infrastructure and machines and stuff,” she says, “And, it was the perfect excuse to keep cows!”
They are inordinately proud of their cows. Pointing them out, Mansoor, dead ernest, says, “We want them to roam freely, graze to their heart’s content, and realise that they are cows, and not some milk-producing machines”. Funny as that sounds, we soon realise that that starting a farm is not just a whim for the Khans. They are committed to it. “Our aim is to have a sustainable lifestyle, not have too much of one thing,” says Mansoor. “ ‘Can Tina and I grow our own food?’ is the question.”
Mansoor hugely admires the messiah of organic farming, Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. Like Fukuoka did, Mansoor too dreams of working in tandem with nature rather than controlling or interfering with Her. “We want to get to know the land, the animals that live off it and share our lifestyle with like minded people,” he says. And, that is why they are planning a ‘farm stay’ called Acres Wild (inspired by Jethro Tull).
Tina and Mansoor are chaffing at the bit as they wait for their ‘farm stay’ to reach completion. There will be a homestead where guests can stay and participate in the farm activity. There is a separate building exclusively for the cheese-making process, and, the cow shed is to be seen to be believed — straight out of Heidi! A sunny patch of the farm is reserved for the herbs Tina will need to flavour her cheese. A lake with plopping fish, and geese and ducks waddling around complete the bucolic charm.
Acres Wild cheese is already doing the rounds of the Nilgiris and Coimbatore. And, enquiries have been coming in from as far away as Kolkata. “It is gratifying, but that is not the scale at which we are looking to produce the cheese,” says Mansoor.
They reiterate that they want to make just enough to keep afloat and supply their immediate neighbourhood. “I find the task of making cheese enjoyable. I experiment with the flavours, spices, and so on. And, if the whole thing turns too big and ‘factory like’, the fun would be totally lost,” says Tina.
The milk comes from their cows and the cheese is made pretty much the old fashioned way. Tina is nicely philosophical. She admits, “Sometimes the cheese doesn’t turn out the way it is meant to, but that is okay, we finish it at home, and try again”. At the moment it is about adding chilli flakes to her cheese that she is debating. Smoked cheese is another favourite topic of conversation as Mansoor has fashioned a ‘smoker’ that gives the cheese its wonderful, woody taste. Right from its making to the vacuum packing,
Tina is in attendance. She is, of course, a great cook. And, every time he enjoys something she has made, Mansoor uploads the recipes on their website.
Gruyere, Gouda, Caerphilly, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Parmesan and Camembert are some of the lip smacking success stories. Tina also makes a mean ricotta cheese, from the leftover whey. Low cal, full of proteins and delicious, it has been a great hit. “The only drawback is that it has a short shelf life, and should be eaten fresh,” she says.
The Acres Wild farm stay will throw open its doors to the ‘farmhands-at-heart’ soon. It is not a resort, say the Khans firmly. “It is for only those who enjoy the same things as we do. The cheese is a great by-product of this lifestyle.”
In Coimbatore, Acres Wild cheese is available at the Oxford Bookstore. For details call 0422-4204804. It is also available at the R.S Puram outlet of Nilgiris. To get to know the Khans some more, visit their Acres Wild website at http://www.acres-wild.com.
Photos: Cover and Centrespread K. Ananthan
– A favourite quote of the Khans from Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, One-Straw Revolution