Parsi Dairy Farm: Mumbai’s Gold Standard in Milk & Milk-Based Products

I was at a modern food superstore in Bandra, Mumbai’s swish suburb, the other day. I walked past rows of imported gourmet cheeses, pastas and meats when I suddenly spotted a group of blue coloured packs which looked as if they were cheerfully waving at me. A closer inspection showed that they were packs of the homegrown Parsi Dairy ghee. I am a Bengali married to a Parsi as you probably know. I remembered that Freddy (Firoz) Kerawala, my maternal uncle-in-law, is a big advocate of the Parsi Dairy Farm butter and ghee. I decided to buy a pack of ghee for home to add to my stock of Jharna ghee from Kolkata as a tribute to the spirit of what Parsi author Meher Pestonji referred to as “mixed marriage”.

Mumbai’s heritage brand, the Parsi Dairy Farm’s products have made a welcome entry into the world of modern retail these days. Its packaged butters, cheeses, kulfis and lassis are to be found proudly jostling for space with dairy products from multinational companies and imported brands in these stores. Its kulfisare served by the SodaBottleOpenerWala restaurant chain in their outlets across the country. Thanks to such initiatives, one can expect this 100 year-old institution to get a fresh lease of life. There was an outburst of heartfelt anguish in response to the news of the Parsi Dairy Farm allegedly shutting down sometime back.

The Parsi Dairy Farm and its legacy is integral to many Mumbai memories and stories after all. My late father-in-law, Mr. Marzban Bilimoria, for example, loved the kulfis of Parsi Dairy Farm. His eyes would light up when these were served at Parsi weddings. He loved these so much that my wife and my mother-in-law would happily give their shares to him. His smile post the kulfi was typical of that of a happy Parsi Dairy Farm customer.

Thankfully, the Parsi Dairy Farm lived to fight another day and it didn’t close down. However, an enterprise cannot run on nostalgia alone. It needs consumer support and this support comes only when an enterprise stays relevant and reinvents itself. The Parsi Dairy Farm was built on the spirit of enterprise shown by its founder, the late Nariman Ardeshir, and it is only apt that the business reinvents itself today. Now it is up to us to keep the legacy alive.
How Did it All Begin

It is said that Mr. Ardeshir hit upon the idea of entering the dairy business when a chance conversation made him realise the trust that the Parsi community evoked among Mumbaikars. He decided to capitalise on this and set up a dairy business, which would stand to offer the best quality milk.

Historian, archaeologist, caterer, Mumbai born food raconteur and a dear friend, Dr. Kurush Dalal, has an interesting anecdote to relate in this context. This story is from the 1970s. Kurush’s father, the late Mr. Feroze Hirji Dalal, used to work on the ships. The late Mr. Dalal was used to great quality milk, thanks to his voyages across the world. He missed this when he was at home as Mumbai was going through a milk shortage back then. He was dependent on the milk doled out by the government on the basis of ration cards and by local doodhwalas (milk men) and neither made the cut for him. Out of frustration one day he asked his milkman about where he could get milk to which water had not been added.

“Who to sirf Parsi Dairy me hoga,” – only in the Parsi Dairy milk – replied the milkman. Such was the regard in which the Parsi Dairy Milk was held even by its competition.

Parsi Dairy milkmen cycling down to South Mumbai houses in cobalt blue shirts and khaki shorts were once a part of the fabric of Mumbai. They would come bearing milk cans, sealed at the dairy every morning, and pour it out through taps to sleepy householders. The milk was more expensive than the other locally available milk but its patron saw value in it.

This was a business built on love as is evident in another story Kurush told me. Apparently the late Mr. Nariman Ardeshir had a ‘retirement scheme’ for the cows that supplied the milk at the Parsi Dairy Farm. Cognizant of the debt he owed to them, he made sure that the cows could live out their final years in peace even after they had stopped producing milk.

The Dairy Business Today

The business is now run by various members of the Ardeshir family and some of it has been divided amongst them. Given the difficulty of competing with lower priced and more abundantly available milk, they hardly supply fresh milk now. The butter, ghee and kulfi that you see in the stores is perhaps a more practical way of carrying the legacy forward.

I would also suggest that you make a trip to the Parsi Dairy Farm outlet at South Mumbai’s Princess Street. The blue uniform of the very courteous staff there is a throwback to the uniform of the Parsi Dairy Farmdoodhwallas of yore. If lucky, you might see members of the family still sitting at the counter. Their sincerity and commitment to the family legacy shows in the wonderful quality of what’s on offer at the shop and the warm welcome you will get there. Sit on one of the many inverted milk cans, enjoy the air-conditioning and the value of living a slow life when you are there. This is precious.

Given the summer heat, you would do well to try a butter milk or a sweet lassi. They will give you a straw but the lassi is so thick that you will need a spoon to finish it. Or you can try some of the Parsi sweets on offer. Freddy mama says that you should try the batela (baked) pedas typical to Parsi. Our family friend and a lover of good food, the late Jamshed Adrianvala, was very fond of their malai khaaja. This is a sweet that consists of a sugar syrup soaked, flour-based crust, the khaaja, which envelopes inside it chilled and refreshing sweet malai (milk cream). The combination of the two contrasting textures and tastes is heady.

To take home, there is the ghee, rare for Mumbai unsalted butter of course. Or you can take home the mava nu boi.  This is a reduced milk-based sweet made in the shape of a fish called boi (parshe in Bengali). This is exchanged among Parsi households on auspicious occasions and is a good way to take home some of the Parsi Dairy Farm love and blessings back with you and to pay your respects to the late Mr. Nariman Ardeshir.

About the Author:

Kalyan loves to eat and he loves to talk about all that he eats. His wife urged him to start writing about it, otherwise she would have to hear it all. He blogs as ‘finelychopped’ and is the author of The Travelling Belly published by Hachette Publications.

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