From French Cobblestones to Bangalore Bylanes

Esha Aphale | May 6, 2024 | Life

Cheese-making, an ancient art of a conscious approach to craft, beautifully reflects the maker’s dedication, care and intentionality. Dating back thousands of years, cheese-making evolved to preserve milk. In Indian culture, a similar practice is seen with paneer, a fresh cheese made by curdling milk with a food acid like lemon juice. This process, like cheese-making, requires precision and attention, resulting in a versatile and beloved ingredient. Both traditions highlight the transformative power of craftsmanship and its ability to create both nourishing and deeply satisfying products on a cultural and emotional level.

Nestled in a bustling corner of Koramangala, Nari & Kāge, founded by Frenchman Benjamin Armel and his partner, Kathrina Salam, is redefining the art of cheese-making and its integration into various cuisines. “During the lockdown, with ample time on our hands, my partner and I, both designers by profession and not cheese makers, delved into the world of cheese-making out of curiosity,” says Armel. As a Frenchman raised on cheese, Armel found its scarcity during that time [the pandemic] prompting him to explore making his own. Surprisingly, he discovered it was achievable with a few alternatives to traditional cheese-making equipment. Experimenting with various types like feta and cheddar, his curiosity and passion grew, leading him to consider importing French products to India.

Nari & Kāge’s Camembert and their packaging, reminiscent of local Fromageries found in France

The unique name “Nari & Kāge” means “fox and crow” in French and Kannada, respectively. “I didn’t want to use a French name because just being French doesn’t mean we know how to make cheese. That would be false advertising. While being French might mean I know my cheese taste-wise or in terms of pairings, we wanted to do something more significant—to put cheese-making on the Indian map, saying that there are actual cheese makers in Bangalore, in Karnataka, more than just Oh, it’s a French guy making cheese in Bangalore,” says Armel. “No, actually, I wanted it to be more local.”

“The Fox and the Crow”, which has inspired the name of the brand, is a timeless fable where a crow perched on a tree branch holds a piece of food while a fox, in an attempt to flatter the crow, tries to make it sing and drop the food. In India, this story often features a crow holding roti, puri, or various Indian breads. This narrative has been retold worldwide, with the French version by Jean de La Fontaine focusing on a piece of cheese. To subtly incorporate French culture, the creators of Nari & Kāge chose this fable. However, unlike the original story where the food is not shared, they added a twist. “Nari,” phonetically similar to “a woman” in Hindi, replaces the separating element of the tree in the fable. This change, with the woman bringing together the fox and the crow, symbolises bringing people together around the idea that cheese, like food in general, is meant to be shared. Through this concept, Armel aims to encourage people to spend quality time around the table, engaging in meaningful conversations without distractions.

The complexities surrounding importation and his French upbringing of intentionality made him rethink his approach, and he began sharing his excess cheese with friends and friends of friends, sparking unexpected interest from strangers. This led him to explore the idea of turning his hobby into a business. Starting from his home kitchen, he operated like a cloud kitchen, offering small batches of cheese on a first-come, first-served basis. Inspired by the neighbourhood cheese shops in France, he envisioned a similar experience, where customers could build a relationship with him, seeking advice on pairing cheeses with wine or ingredients for a particular dish.

An assortment of fresh, organically produced ‘les fromages’ [cheese] in-store

“Our goal,” chimes in Salam, “is to provide more than just cheese; I want to offer knowledge and an experience that enhances my customers’ culinary adventures.”

“Cheese-making is at the heart of what we do, and it all starts with the right milk,” says Armel, detailing their journey of creating a piece of cheese. It took Armel and his Salam two years to find the perfect milk, sourced from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. The team’s commitment to authentic cheese-making is reflected in their use of organic milk, ensuring strict control and reliability in their ingredients. Their cheese-making process is tailored to each cheese, allowing them to craft distinctive products like fresh goat cheese coated in the unique spice blend. They take pride in crafting exceptional cheeses, opting for unconventional choices such as Queso Oaxaca, Camembert, and Chèvre [goat cheese] over traditional mozzarella and infusing flavours like cumin, garlic and rosemary. Beyond cheese, Nari & Kāge curates a selection of artisanal products from around India, including jams, preserves, pure honey, and spices, showcasing exceptional flavours and giving these artisans the recognition they deserve. Their overarching mission is to recreate authentic fromageries [French cheese-shops] and offer a holistic culinary experience that embodies quality, innovation, personal-connect, slow-living, and passion.

Words by Esha Aphale.
Image courtesy Nari & Kāge.
Featured image Nari & Kāge x A.ware Studio’s tablescape.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like