Pahalwan’s sells around 150 kg of kaladi a day. It’s possible that Jammu and neighbouring districts produce several thousand kilos of this regional favourite, found at almost every street corner. I turn to Pahalwan’s Satpal Abrol for a response. The kaladi, he says, has long been part of these hills and Dogra cuisine. The fact that it was prepared on a small scale in high-altitude pockets limited its presence to the region. “Now it’s commercially made in cities but till a few years back, it was only the Gujjars who’d sell it. Kaladi used to be a summer special, made only when the shepherds ascended to the mountaintops with their herds. They curdled the unsold milk — which didn’t last long in that weather — to make kaladi,” he says.
The Gujjars use rustic pots to make the cheese, shape it by hand and ripen it in the sun on a bed of pine leaves. I recall the soldier telling me Ramnagar in Udhampur district is renowned for its kaladi. Abrol agrees, saying for an authentic taste, one needs to visit a Gujjar kitchen.
Later on a trip to Kashmir, I get a flavour of the original in the picturesque town of Aru, near Pahalgam. I’m sipping kehwa at a tea shop, when I spot a cluster of pheran-clad men scrutinising a pile of pale-cream discs that a Gujjar lady — clad in long shirt and embroidered topi — has pulled out of her cloth bag. “It’s doodh roti,” one of the men tells me as he pays a pittance for 20 pieces. “We call it maish krej in Kashmiri. In Jammu region, it’s known as kaladi,” another chips in. The shape of the Gujjar variety is different but the preparation is similar and so is the manner in which it’s relished by locals. The Gujjars, however, have it the gourmet way: grilled on wood-fire.
Has nobody thought of branding this soft cheese? My question is answered at a foods store in Srinagar, where I discover vacuum-packed kaladi manufactured by a Dutchman settled in Pahalgam.