Mozzarella in India? A dairy farmer is banking on a growing appetite for pizza's key ingredient.

One dairy farmer in India is turning much of his farm's buffalo milk into mozzarella cheese, betting that growing Indian palates will begin demanding domestic cheese products.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Say the word “mozzarella” and one automatically thinks of a slice of Italian pizza topped with a thick layer of cheese. But Italy’s signature cheese, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), hardly has native origins. Mozzarella is made from the rich milk of water buffalo, and buffalo are not native to Italy.

India, however, is home to more than 40 million water buffaloes, which help to produce more than 100 million tons (about 23 billion gallons) of milk each year. Most buffalo milk is turned into butter and ghee (clarified butter) used in vast quantities in Indian cooking. Cheese, however, has yet to gain wide appeal.

But dairy farmer Sunil Bhu has been working to change that and banking on the “slowly but surely” expanding palates of Indians who travel abroad and discover the culinary delights of other cultures. Mr. Bhu himself learned his cheesemaking craft as an apprentice on a dairy farm in Flanders, Belgium.

Bhu began making Gouda on his own farm, Flanders Dairy, outside New Delhi, in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade he had shifted to mozzarella as new pizzerias introduced Indians to the joys of a crust smothered in gooey cheese and tomato sauce.

Work starts 6 a.m. at Flanders Dairy. It takes around 10 hours to make almost 900 lbs. of mozzarella. Gaurav Jaggi, Bhu’s nephew and co-owner of the farm, says their market is growing 25 to 30 percent a year. “When we started out we used to make cheese out of 100 liters of milk. Now we make cheese out of 4,500 to 5,000 liters of milk,” Mr. Jaggi says. Flanders Dairy plans to export to other countries next year after their operations move to a bigger plant. Watch out, Italy.

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