2015 Trend Alert: The Middle Eastern Cheese You Need To Know

Shanklish. Fun to say, and even more fun to eat.

Photo Credit: Dima Haddad, Procrastinator Cook

When Food & Wine declared Middle Eastern food a 2015 foodie trend in the US, we started scoping out the surprising cheesy bounty the region offers. One that really grabbed our attention is Shanklish, an aged cheese from Syria. It stands apart from the wide assortment of fresh white cheeses, since it's the only “blue” cheese in the Middle East.

Know it

Shanklish has a long standing history in Syria and its surrounding areas. Its name comes from combining the Kurdish shan, meaning small terracotta pot, and qareesh, a Bedouin word for fermented milk. The aged cheese emerged from necessity, as old Kurdish tribes lacked access to refrigerators and sought a way to preserve their fresh yogurt cheeses. Luckily for them, clay jars known as baresh proved to age the cheeses in a way that gave them deep, earthy flavors, and the first and only Middle Eastern mold-ripened cheese to date was born.

Make it

Making Shanklish properly is no small feat. It begins with turning cow, sheep, or goat milk into yogurt. Then, the yogurt must be shaken continuously until the butter separates and is skimmed away. This process creates a thick yogurt called Shenineh, which is then heated until it curdles. The resulting curds are drained, heavily salted, and rolled into ping pong or tennis-sized balls. After being sun-dried for a week, these balls are transferred to airtight jars and left to mature for up to sixteen weeks, developing their distinctively funky, moldy flavors. The final step is to rinse away the mold acquired during aging, and roll the balls in spices such as dried za’atar, thyme, or smoked paprika.

DSC00533Credit: Dima Haddad, Procrastinator Cook

Eat It

To let the savory, pungent flavors of Shanklish shine, the balls are often eaten simply over fresh pita topped with tomato, cucumber, and generous glugs of olive oil. Additionally, Shanklish salads are quite popular throughout the Middle East, and often include the addition of mint or parsley. We personally love this one with walnuts and arugula from Procrastinator Cook Dima Haddad. Hardcore Syrian foodies, however, will tell you this boldly-flavored cheese is best eaten all by itself!
2015 Trend Alert: The Middle Eastern Cheese You Need To Know