Can you imagine how exciting it would be to become the first artisan cheese maker in your entire country?! Imran Saleh lives and thrives in that excitement every day. He has relentlessly (and against all odds) created a niche for his cheese in Lahore. In doing so, he has managed to change the cheese culture of Pakistan.
We first “met” Imran 3 years ago when he was just starting to make cheese. At that time, he was basically teaching himself and he was constantly experimenting with different recipes and milks. Every time he “failed” or ran into an obstacle, he became even more determined to succeed. We posted 3 articles that first year (previous articles in 2013-Making Cheese in Pakistan, Teaching a Workshop in Pakistan, and Making Dry Mozzarella in Pakistan).
During that year, Imran began to fulfill his dream of changing the cheese culture in Pakistan. And, by the next year, 2014, he was the first entrepreneur to make and sell artisan cheese in his country. It’s an amazing achievement and there was a great article written a few weeks ago by Chris Cork for the Express Tribune about this- click here
INTERVIEW WITH IMRAN
Are there any other small, artisinal cheese companies in Pakistan?
No. The reason is that cheese was never a routine diet in Pakistan. It was considered a luxury for a very long time. Now, as eating habits are changing, awareness is being created. Pizza shops are having a mushroom growth, many international cafe and food chains have opened their branches, and people are getting more aware of cheese and it’s varieties. My addition definitely has made a difference. After 5 years of hard work, people in the big cities are well aware of my artisan cheese varieties. They try, they like and they become regular customers. Now, some other individuals are trying their hands at artisinal cheeses and this is the first step for this cottage industry in Pakistan.
Are you working at it full time now or do you still have your other business?
My first business, “Faisal Traders” is the mother of all my businesses. This is a family, well settled business, so it has to be continued.
Cheese making is my “first love” (or I guess second as my first love is my wife Ayesha (kidding)). Now, it is on the brink of turning into a proper industry. I feel myself addicted to this skill- the more I make, the more I get involved. I start at 6 am and with my team, usually we are done by 2 pm. After 2, I go to my other office and stay there until 7 pm.
Cheese is being made 7 days a week- sometimes double shift, too. I have a big customer bank in Lahore and Islamabad, including a large number of foreigners who are repeat customers. Now, I am expanding towards Karachi which is a distant but important city. I have a plan to turn it into my prime business within one year. The business is rapidly expanding and I have to face many difficult situations.
What kinds of cheese are you making now?
I make over 20 varieties of cheese including bocconcini, feta , buffalo mozzarella, Gouda, taleggio, Brie, burrata, Halloumi, mascarpone, emmental, jacks, cottage, and some of my own innovations. To meet the demand, I have to continuously monitor the inventory and I usually find myself with low stock. (This is a complicated matter for which I still do not have the proper person.) I also have to keep myself engaged with my Facebook page and other social media forums and answer all the questions people ask. So, it’s a 25 hour business for me. My dream is to have multiple cheese facilities of artisan cheese all over Pakistan and regular supplies on every corner in order to give my people a healthy and nourishing food.
My cheese facility has 3 good size rooms. One is for manufacturing, one packing and one is used for both an office and storage. We work under strict rules. Uniform, gloves and hair covers are a must. We have separate shoes for working in the factory. High standards of hygiene are adopted. I have a van and a rickshaw for delivery purposes. Soon, I will have an office in Islamabad and a small goat farm is under discussion.
Thus, I am enjoying cheese making at it’s best and eating a lot of cheese, too.
What do you enjoy the most about making cheese?
I guess I love cheese making from A to Z. The pleasure it gives me is immeasurable (seriously). When the milk turns into curds, when the curds start hardening , the smell of the whey, the ultimate product – everything is so fascinating.