A very moo-ving encounter

May 09, 2013, 00:15 IST | Ruchika Kher

In our pursuit to break away from city life, most of us have explored eco hubs, organic farms and picturesque retreats around Mumbai. But would you consider spending a day in a dairy farm with cows for company, to learn about the layers that go into processing cheese? Ruchika Kher writes about it all in her dairy farm diary

“They begin their day with Bhajans, and move on to Bollywood songs; sometimes, we play Marathi music too,” our guide Jaba Roy at Bhagyalaxmi Dairy Farm, owned by Parag Milk Foods in Manchar, in Maharashtra’s Western Ghats, looked straight-faced as she revealed this daily routine of their important residents. But we were trying hard to contain our laughter as we were informed about amusing element that formed part of the schedule of over 3,500 cows whose job was to produce a variety of milk and cheese products.

Cows are taken for milking thrice a day. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Dairy tourism might be in its nascent stage in India yet there seems to be a growing interest into understanding how things work — behind the scenes. Along with this farm, the company owns a cheese plant and has introduced the concept of dairy tourism to educate an increasing number of people about the process of converting milk into cheese. To get a hands-on experience, we decided to attach ourselves to one ofthe tours.

The Rotary Panel is machine that milks the cows. It milks 50 cows at one zgo in seven minutes

Walking into the cow belt
The plant and the farm, which are approximately five kms apart are situated in the rustic setting of Manchar, a village that sits on a pristine stretch of the Western Ghats, with hills beautifying the landscape in addition to the green fields. It took us approximately four hours to reach our destination by road from Mumbai. On arrival at the plant, we were greeted by our guide, Jaba Roy.

Before one enters the cheese plant, one has to go through this disinfectant chamber, where the air disinfects your clothes. This is to maintain hygiene

The tour started with the visit to the cheese plant, where the milk received from the farm is converted into different products. Special attention is given to hygiene; hence each one of us was provided with a sparkling white coat (similar to the one doctors wear), a cap and a mask. After dressing for the tour, we were given a small introduction to different kinds of cheese (visions of a cheese-laden pizza began to emerge) and were shown a disinfectant chamber. Post that we were asked to stand on a machine that cleaned our shoes and sanitised our hands (thinking of Jetsons, anyone?).

After cheese is created and dried, it is moved to the Ripening Room, where it is left to ripe. While Mozzarella gets ripe in 3 to 9 days, Cheddar takes between 3 to 6 months

Next we were inside the expansive plant, amidst myriad machines that were working meticulously to create our favourite cheese from cow’s milk. Roy, took us from one machine to the other, explaining different processes and enlightening us about the different ways they are consumed in, for example, slices, wedges, spreads, etc. Once done with this, we were taken into the storage room, where cheese is stored after packing and also houses the blast chiller (cold storage) that maintains a temperature of -18 degrees Celsius — we dared not wander there!

This machine helps in creating cheese slices, which are then packed in packs of 10

Cattle care
Next stop on our tour was our visit to the farm — a 10-minute car ride. The 40 acre state-of-the-art farm, which is managed by American Edmund Piper, is home to 3,500 Holstein cows, a cattle breed known today as the world’s highest production dairy animals, originating in Europe. When we entered, it was pleasing to note that the farm was cleaner than we expected and well segregated into different sections.

Cutting cheese in small bricks for storage

First up, Roy directed us to the Rotary Parlour (it’s a no entry zone that can be viewed from a gallery above, through a glass separator). It was fascinating to see this innovative milking equipment that milks 50 cows at one go in seven minutes! The fact that cows knew where to get in from and when is the time to go out amused us. However, the close encounter with the cows was the best part. Much bigger in size than the ones we’ve seen before, these cows appeared squeaky clean, and weren’t camera shy! The moment we took out our camera, they competed with each other to cover the frame.

No surprise then that two of these are called Aishwarya and Katrina, respectively. “These cows give 25 litres of milk each, daily but there are two cows who give nearly 50 litres each, everyday. They are our star cows, hence we’ve named them Aishwarya and Katrina,” informs Roy. We’d wait for the day when the actresses come face to face with their four-legged namesakes!

How to sign up?
>> Cost is Rs 500 per person, which includes pick and drop from Mumbai, lunch and a gift hamper.
>> You will need to register with Heena Tours
>> Direct visits are not allowed.
At: Heena Tours, Liberty, first floor, behind McDonalds, Sarojini Road, Vile Parle (W).
Call: 67294444 / 26166655 / 26166666 / 32514816

Your time at the farm
>> Start 7.30 am from Dadar (E)
>> Reach Manchar (about one and a half hours from Pune) by 11.30 am
>> After some rest, visit to the cheese plant
>> Post that, visit to the dairy farm by 1 pm
>> Lunch by 3 pm
>> Return by 4.30 pm
>> Reach Mumbai by 9.30 pm 

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