For the longest time, the concept of Malaysian cheese was foreign to us. Then, Annisa Iwan moved to Malaysia and everything changed.
A huge fan of cheese, she spent five years learning to make cheese through trial and error. She was soon making so much cheese that she started her own brand, Milky Whey, to sell the dairy products.
Annisa makes 25 kinds of cheese almost single-handedly – she used to make over 30 – in her home in Desa Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. It includes Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, smoked cheese, and specially-crafted cheese like cili padi gouda and Sarawak black pepper-studded goat cheese.
“People always want something new and I’m too happy to oblige because I love experimenting,” she says. Every cheese she makes is delicious and uses either cow’s milk from Perak or goat’s milk from Kelantan.
Annisa’s effect on the Malaysian F&B scene is nothing short of seismic – she supplies her homemade cheeses to major clients like the W Hotel, Alta Cafe, Sitka, Cellar 18 and Casa Latina. She also has regular clients who buy her products from her home.
To keep up with demand, she has built a new cheese room at home and is shoring up stock, so she can launch an e-commerce component of her business in 2019. By doing something few people thought possible, Annisa has inspired home cooks and chefs to learn cheese-making in Malaysia.
“There are a lot of people who want to make cheese now,” she says. “I feel like it’s becoming a trend because they know now that it’s possible.”
Malaysians are passionate lovers of chocolate from Belgium and Switzerland but Malaysian-made chocolate is never really on local radars – which is something Ong Ning-Geng was looking to change when he launched his bean-to-bar company, Chocolate Concierge.
“We grow cocoa trees and Malaysians obviously love chocolate, so I thought I should connect the dots,” says Ong. “Someone should be making good chocolate from Malaysian cocoa, why not me?”
He set about finding the perfect local cocoa bean in to create a world-class chocolate. Realising that the cocoa fermentation process in Malaysia wasn’t ideal, he took the step of buying his own cocoa farm to control the process.
Then he purchased more farms and set up joint ventures with other local farms. He also works with orang asli from the Semai and Temuan groups, supplying them with free cocoa trees, teaching them how to grow the trees, then buying the cocoa back at three times the market value.
All that effort means Chocolate Concierge now produces a range of delicious truffles, chocolate bars, and Malaysian-themed chocolates like sweet laksa, onde-onde and teh tarik.
The brand’s popularity has surged and the single-origin chocolate can be found on the menus of fine-dining haunts like Dewakan, Entier, Bref, and even the Michelin-starred Nouri in Singapore.
In 2018, Ong and his Chocolate Concierge were recognised by the Michelin Guide in an article about the rise of Southeast Asian chocolatiers. To Ong, the accolades are fuelling his desire to spread awareness about the wondrous possibilities of Malaysian chocolate.
“I want to promote Malaysian cocoa as one that has a place globally,” he says. “The vision is to build a future for Malaysian cocoa.”