Meet the former physicist who travelled the world — for cheese
Aditya Raghavan learned the art of cheesemaking in France, Italy and beyond
What do a former physicist and a cheesemaker have in common?
Not much, maybe, unless they're the same person.
When Aditya Raghavan's interest in physics began to wane, he swapped out his academic life as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta for a career making artisanal cheese.
He first began making cheese in 2011, before transitioning to it completely in 2012.
"I was working at the university and just dabbling at home with, you know, with salad or bread and cheesemaking and stuff like that just in small batches," Raghavan, now 40, told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
Out of all his cooking experiments at home, the only one that grabbed his attention was cheese.
In 2020 he brought his passion for cheese made with organic milk to life under the Fleur Jaune Cheese brand for Meuwly's Artisan Food Market, an Edmonton company that specializes in locally-made gourmet foods.
Although Raghavan doesn't have a complete cheesemaking kitchen at Meuwly's, each week he churns out seven or eight different cheeses, totalling 320 kilograms.
"It's not supposed to be sitting in the fridge for weeks and weeks," he said. "It's supposed to be consumed in, you know, within 10 to 12 days."
His aged cheese wheels, on the other hand, are roughly three months old.
A scientist at heart, Raghavan wanted to learn the true art of caseiculture (cheesemaking).
He was drawn to France and Italy, where he "spent a significant amount of time" in 2016 and 2017 honing his skills.
"Because as we know it, most of the cheese we have today comes from Europe," he said.
He set up bases in the Savoie region in France and the Alpine region in Italy, where he learned "skills you can't get from books" from cheese masters.
In 2017, he was a delegate at a cheese conference in northern Italy.
"Quebec has a great history of cheese as well, but the traditional skills of cheese making are still a European skill set," Raghavan said. "Going back to the motherland and learning that was crucial."
His European travels inspired him to fill a void in the Canadian market by creating fresh cheeses using pasteurized organic milk.
"I feel like that flavour, or that texture and the profile of the cheese, is something you can't find in packaged products," he said.
Raghavan calls India his home, and while vacationing there in 2013 found himself a job as a cheese consultant to dairy farmers.
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But he added that despite their love of dairy products, Indians don't traditionally consume a lot of artisanal cheeses.
Armed with knowledge he gained while travelling in North America and Europe, Raghavan wanted to share all that he knew with dairy farmers. He mirrored the European cheese practices in India.
Raghavan's travels changed the way he worked with cheese and made him look to traditional techniques.
"We don't have artificial ingredients and [the cheeses] don't have stabilizers and other chemicals that will preserve it for a long time," he said.
The cheese is meant to be a fresh natural product, like halloumi, fromage blanc or his personal favourite, stracciatella — a stringy, stretched mozzarella cheese mixed with cream.
"It sounds weird, but it's delicious," Raghavan said. He makes stracciatella on a weekly basis.
As an Indian chef, Raghavan is no stranger to herbs and spices, and while he enjoys using them in his products, he is cautious.
"I make this French style farmer's cheese and sometimes I make it with saffron infusions," he said. "It modulates the cream of the cheese."
But more often than not, he adds the herbs and spices on the outside of the cheeses, where they act to enhance appearance and flavour.
"So, when you cut into it, you can eat as much or as little of it as you want," Raghavan said.
This allows the customer to guide the flavour of the cheese to their liking, instead of being controlled by the maker.
"The cheese becomes an experience. It's a delight."