Tutu Saadullah, a cheese connoisseur and the owner of Tutu’s Artisan Cheese talked to the Dhaka Tribune about his journey
The popularity of cheese can be seen across most countries in the world, with various categories being more popular across different cultures. Our subcontinent is not an exception, with cheese shops prevalent across old Dhaka back in the days. With cheese making gradually becoming a form of dying art, the surge of commercialization and import of branded cheese has driven many out of the business. Many of us have come across Tutu’s Artisan Cheese, on social media platforms. Tutu Saadullah, a cheese connoisseur and the owner of Tutu’s Artisan Cheese talked to the Dhaka Tribune about how he started off his journey with making cheese, and how he converted his passion into a business.
Tutu Saadullah, first started off his career as a fighter pilot in the 60s, only to leave the profession after a few years in order to pursue his graduate studies in Industrial Design in London back in the 70s. With a passion to create something new, Tutu returned to Bangladesh and started the first commercial wooden flooring business in Bangladesh. The company is called Bentwood. Apart from his business, he has always been passionate about art, western classical music, food, and cooking.
How did you fall in love with cheese?
It’s a long story. In the early fifties, there used to be a Dhakai cheese shop at Islampur Road in Old Town. Special buffalo and cow’s milk cheese were sold there and this cheese was a regular item on our breakfast table. My tastebuds, therefore, became familiar with cheese from a very early age.
Another incident which has never left me was when, as a young commissioned air force pilot, I was in a survival course in the northernmost tribal region of Pakistan in 1968. I tasted a primitive style of cheese curd drink, it had a very strong cheesy flavour and left an impression on me. Later on, during my travels, I have tried over 100 different varieties of cheese.
How many different kinds of cheese are you making? And what are they?
I have made more than 20 different types of cheese. The first one I made, just as a challenge, to see if European hard cheese can be made. I found an article on a website, how Amish people of USA make their traditional homestead cheese using yoghurt and rennet. To my surprise, after following that method, my first cheese came out very much like English Cheddar. It was hard but creamy and had the western cheesy flavour.
Generally, cheese making equipment is very expensive. So as an industrial designer, I make all different types of moulds, the pressure applying presses, cheese vats, automatic milk stirring paddles, humidity-controlled cheese cave, locally by applying appropriate technology. This has helped me create many different types of hard and soft cheeses: Cream, Dhakai, Feta, Halloumi, Brie and Camembert are soft and Cheddar, Leicester, Gouda, Swiss, Gruyere, Manchego, Colby are hard cheeses. I also make smoked or spice-infused Cheddar and Gouda.
Could you give the readers a small briefing, about the history and origin of the most popular types of cheese among the ones you make?
It is said that cheese was first discovered by nomads of Asia Minor 5,000-7,000 years back as the milk they used to store in the dried pouch stomach of their cattle herds which coagulated while in their journey. There are more than 4,000 types of cheese if you consider local and regional cheese. Maximum variations are all over Europe. Some of the finest cheese is made from sheep and goat milk.
It is difficult to discuss all the different types of cheese and its origins. So I will give an example of cheddar, which I make on a regular basis. Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the world. The name is derived from a small town in Somerset in the UK called cheddar, which has a valley with a gorge and a cave. In ancient times, cheddar was kept inside the cave to mature as the process needs high humidity and cold environment. In making cheddar, there is a technique involved, which is called ‘cheddaring’ -- a time consuming lengthy process where the cheese is stacked one on top of another to develop the exquisite flavour associated with this cheese. There is a very interesting anecdotal semantics regarding this. A cheese maker once said, “I am cheddaring cheddar in Cheddar.”
Do you use raw or pasteurized milk for making cheese?
In making soft cheese, that have a short shelf life (Cream, Feta etc.) pasteurized milk is used. In making hard cheese with maturity over three months, I use raw milk. This extended period kills off all the bad milk bacteria.
How did you come up with the idea of a selling it online through Facebook?
After my success with Amish style cheese in August 2017, I started sharing some of the cheese with friends and family. Then by word of mouth, people started sending requests to me. Then I decided to open a page on Facebook, just to share my cheese making experiments and learning, with locally available materials and my innovative cheese moulds. Then one thing led to another, and in the last two years, I have been supplying cheese to my clients regularly. As the order volume is increasing, so is my enthusiasm of making cheese.
Do you see a growing demand for cheese in Dhaka?
There are two types of cheese making. An exclusive artisanal cheese made by individuals is sold at their own shops or in group cheese monger shops and these are expensive. The other commercially produced cheese that sell in supermarkets emphasize more on standardization, extended shelf life, and cheaper price. What I make is artisanal cheese, with best quality milk, and in small manageable batches. I feel, there is a very small percentage of Bangladeshi population who love cheese. But through my page, I do see a growing number of people who are interested in trying good quality artisan cheese.
What’s your personal favourite?
If I have to answer honestly, there are a few. In soft cheese, I like Camembert baked with rosemary and a dash of olive oil on toasted sourdough bread or with Brie.
In hard cheese, extra mature crumbly cheddar on a wheat cracker.
What are your future plans with Tutu’s Artisan Cheese?
I want to keep on making cheese as long as I can. I hope to inspire the younger generation to become interested in producing products which may not seem local, but can be made in Bangladesh with our local technology.