Chogal: Earns Moniker of Cheese Village

Kashmir Magazine

Aatif Qayoom

If you happen to visit Chogal in north Kashmir district, don’t forget to bring home some of the best cheese made in this village. The cheese being made here is famous across Kashmir and is also being exported to outside J&K and abroad.

Senior citizens of the village said the people who have worked in the cheese business for the last four decades have never mixed anything with this locally made cheese, which led the village has earned the name Chaman Chogal (Cheese Chogal).

The villagers said the majority of locals are associated with the cheese-making trade. “The Kupwara district has largest dairy farms on record. Every household owns one or two cows which produce a large quantity of milk here”, the villagers said.

Chogal has not only made the Kupwara areas self-sufficient in milk and cheese but it has also built up the capacity to supply the surplus to Srinagar and other districts in Kashmir.

Situated on Kupwara - Sopore road, the Chogal village which is just three kilometers away from Handwara town has earned the moniker of cheese village. “Over the years, Chogal cheese vendors have honed their skills in the preparation of high-quality cheese. The majority of individuals choose to sell their milk here since they can get better prices for it, which is subsequently turned into cheese and other dairy products.”

According to the cheese vendors, this pure cheese has provided employment opportunities to residents of nearby villages such as Guloora, Gund Chowgal, Kultoora, Takiabal, and Kulangam, which are being gathered by some Chogal cheese dealers. Residents claim that daily, people in this area sell cheese and milk for roughly Rs 4 lakh.

Reyaz Ahmad, a cheese seller, said that his family has been in this trade since 1985, and he has been selling cheese since then. He said he sells 70-80 kg of cheese every day, in addition to selling milk to people.

Ahmad further said that key leaders in the valley, like Farooq Abdullah and others, are ordering relish cheese from his shop, and that people from Teetwal to Banihal are coming to buy it.

He stated that they collect milk from all adjacent villages, which is then made into cheese, and that they also receive orders for this cheese from Dubai, and that they send it to Dubai and other countries whenever they receive orders.

Reyaz continued that he had orders from Dubai regularly, and he had to ship the 70 kg of cheese to Dubai recently. He added that they usually send the cheese to Dubai on orders because Kashmiris living or working in Dubai prefer cheese from Chogal.

Abdul Gaffar, another cheese vendor, said he is one of the oldest people selling cheeses here. According to Gaffar, those who buy cheese here for the first time have become regular clients, and people from Srinagar and other areas of Kashmir valley come here solely to buy cheese.

“You can imagine the quality by this a person from Srinagar is coming here exclusively to buy it, even though the cheese is widely accessible at every market, the quality and flavor is the only reason people prefer to travel here to buy the cheese from this village,” he said.

These cheese makers feel that the only reason this cheese has gained its name and popularity is that it was not mixed with any other thing from the beginning, and they hope that others will make it in this hamlet after the elder cheese makers have left would not mix anything with the cheese.

They claimed that the cheese is made in every corner of Kashmir valley and that people are not getting the taste of the cheese that they are buying from other places. They also assert that they are covering almost all marriage orders from the district of Kupwara, in addition to orders from other Kashmir parts.

My father has been involved with cheese making since 2007, and we have never received any complaint from clients, according to a young cheese seller.

The milk in the village is being also sold at cheaper rates while in other parts the same is being sold at 10 rupees extra.

Another cheese seller of the village Farooq Ahmad said, he is making cheese daily around 600 liters of milk adding that in summers he is collecting around 1500-1800 liters of milk from people.

He also said he is happy with this business, adding a large number of people in this area are associated with his shop and he has become the source of their livelihood.

It is almighty Allah who is providing livelihood to these people and He chooses me for the same. It gives me immense pleasure to be a source of the livelihoods of many underprivileged people, Ahmad said.

The young cheese seller also said he has some clients who are solely dependent on milk selling and they are fulfilling their daily needs by selling milk.

Talking to this reporter, a resident of Chogal Handwara, Ashiq Ahmad, said that his son is studying in Bangladesh and he has always requested for the cheese made in this village to be delivered to him. He added that we are regularly sending him cheese and that people from other countries who are studying with him are always asking him to get cheese from home.

The residents of the village also want a manufacturing unit in the village so that various milk-made products can be manufactured there. They believe that if the government is interested in the enterprise, they should pay attention to making these small units that will make many dairy products without any mixture, in addition, will provide job opportunities to the uneducated people in the area.

They said the village is located on the main road and if there would be some mini-factories that would be a boost for the residents of this area and they hoped that the government will think over it in future.

A young cheese seller on the Sopore - Baramulla road at the village said that many young educated people have chosen this enterprise as a profession because it is not possible that every individual can get a government job.

He said in Kashmir valley we have seen the young educated youth is only waiting to get government jobs, instead of creating their own job opportunities.

He said that he is happy that he is earning handsomely and isn’t dependent on anyone. He also stated he is associated with the shop for the last many years and from the last one year he is operating it on his own.

A senior officer of Chief Animal Husbandry, Kupwara said, the area has a vast stock of livestock which includes the crossbreed population. This particular area has a good conversion ratio as compared to other areas of the frontier district.

The officer said that people in the belt have easy access to nearby veterinary centers which is helping them to grow more livestock, adding the breeding programs in the area have achieved the feat.

On being asked about what makes Chogal Cheese famous? The officer said that when the cheese will be made of pure milk it will surely attract customer-ship. “This belt has surplus milk available and everybody’s requirement is available, the remaining milk is being used for different purposes, like cheese, curd and other dairy products,” the officer added.

What is cheese made of?

It all begins with milk collection from dairy farms and households. When the milk arrives at the cheese shop, the cheese-makers inspect it and take samples to ensure that it meets quality and purity standards.

Most cheeses are made with cow’s milk. This is due in part to the wide availability of cow’s milk and the fact that it offers optimal amounts of fat and protein. Some examples of cow’s milk cheeses include Cheddar, Swiss, and Gouda, among many others.

After passing through a filter, the milk is standardized, which means it may be supplemented with more fat, cream, or protein. This is significant because, to generate a consistent cheese, cheese-makers must start with the same base milk.

Pasteurization occurs after the milk has been standardized. Pasteurization is required because raw milk might contain harmful bacteria, which are killed by pasteurization.

Because milk is the star of the show, you’ll need perfect milk to make perfect cheese. Because “just right” varies from cheese to cheese, many cheese-makers begin by standardizing their milk by processing it any way they need to. This could entail adjusting the protein-to-fat ratio.

Cheese-makers acidify milk by adding starter and non-starter cultures. The milk should already be around 90°F at this time, and it should be kept at that temperature for about 30-minutes as it ripens. The PH level of the milk drops throughout this ripening process, and the flavor of the cheese begin to develop.