The idea of creamy desserts tends to leave most people gasping about the state of their waistlines. For those buying cream from Cantonment Dairy, there are gasps – but of joy.
“I use the cream for desserts; mousses and soufflés… they are so light, there is no feeling of ‘heaviness’ that you get with packaged cream,” gushes Zeeba Shahid, who has been a loyal customer for over 20 years.
Tucked away in the service lane off Lily Bridge, Cantonment Dairy dates back to pre-partition times. In 1946, Haji Ghulam Rasool set up the dairy shop and named it after the area it was located in. And for the past 66 years, Cantonment Dairy has primarily sold three products: freshly churned butter, cream and milk.
After Rasool’s son Ali Murad was married in 1950, he handed over the day-to-day management of the shop to him. Rasool’s own father would supervise Murad.
The shop is now run by Murad’s son Ashraf Chandio, who took over after his father died in 1980.
“None of my brothers wanted to run the business, so I stepped up. But I love this work,” he says.
The small shop still has its original geometric tiles and light fixtures, a fridge and a safe Rasool bought in 1950 for Rs400. An old fan without a capacitor is still running: Chandio says it helps because it keeps the products cool.
A photo of Haji Ghulam Rasool and two of his grandchildren, framed in 1953, is affixed on a pipe running up a wall.
The other employees at Cantonment Dairy – Ashraf Chandio’s younger brother, cousin and uncle – are busy churning and packaging butter. The men smooth out the lumps of butter and package it into small squares, wrapped in paper with the dairy’s logo. Unlike the bright yellow of packaged butter, this is pale yellow, almost white.
Initially, the family used their own livestock to produce the store’s wares. “When Ayub Khan was in power he ordered all livestock to be shifted outside the city to Bhains Colony, my grandfather sold the animals. He said it would be too much effort to keep commuting,” recalls Chandio.
Cantonment Dairy now orders in cream from Punjab, delivered by the Khyber Mail every day. The cream is then used to make butter, which is churned in the same barrel Rasool commissioned.
“We tried the electric one,” Chandio says. “The taste wasn’t the same, and for us, taste is the most important thing.”
There are no preservatives added to the product, nor is it mixed with water. “The cream was delayed today and went sour, so I’ve been turning customers away. I can’t have it weigh on my conscience for a profit of four rupees.” The fat content is lower, he says, than the packaged versions in the market.
In 1962, butter was sold for Rs3.5 a pound. The customers were mostly foreigners from the consulates and embassies, Christians, Parsis. “The Parsis would always buy two to four ounces of cream, never more. They used it for coffee and puddings,” Chandio says. Cream was always a “high gentry” item, as he puts it.
Today, it costs Rs380 per kilogram and Cantonment Dairy supplies to Sind Club, Karachi Club, the Beach Luxury Hotel and the Pompeii restaurant. “We used to sell to Maxim’s too,” he says. But the once-famed steakhouse “changed their menu and has more Pakistani food now, so they don’t order as much cream.”
Chandio also notes that there has been a change in trends; cream-based items are more common in Ramazan, and the concept of using cream in food has also become more popular. “If the clubs used to buy 10 to 20 pounds of cream they now buy 150 to 200 pounds,” he said.
Another customer base that has popped up are the slew of bakers and chefs, including Shama Askari, whose cakes are served at Nando’s, Armeen’s and the noted chef Zubaida Aapa. Shama Askari, he says, uses the dairy’s cream because there isn’t any water content that drains out.
A day at the Dairy
The store opens at 8am and closes at 9pm. “I do a really long shift,” Chandio laughs. “I even open on Eid – if the cream shipment is here, I have to get it from the train station.”
While the business has been in the family since it opened doors, Chandio, who is now 55, doesn’t know who will take it forward. “My son is studying to be a doctor – he’s not going to sit here!” The store has been unchanged since it opened, but while Chandio would like to modernize, expansion isn’t on the cards. “When you expand your business and you can’t afford to, you start cheating your customers.” And the dairy’s priority is always its customers, who may come from the other ends of the city, but will shop for fresh butter and cream to make feather-light desserts.
While there’s a steady stream of loyal customers, the peak times for sales are at Eid-ul-Fitr and the weeks before Christmas.
Zeeba Shahid says she buys from Cantonment Dairy because it’s “always fresh.”
“They pour it from a jug in front of you, and with other places its frozen and you don’t know how long it has been there.”
The dairy also sells the run-off ‘lassi’ to the neighbourhood as well as to men who then sell it in Saddar during the summer. “People in the area get it for making kadi,” he says, referencing a traditional dish made with gram flour.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.
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