Syrian Cheese Making, Part I

3 Mar

Last month, I did a cooking class at Whole Foods on the Bowery.  It was a very enjoyable experience due in large part to the fabulous two assistants who cooked with me for the five hours that I was there– prepping, schmoozing and sharing ideas. Kitchen gossip.  I was also delighted that several sated students (say that three times fast!) stayed afterwards to chat.  One of those avid class-goers, Laurie S., told me that she, too, lived in Park Slope and asked if I would enjoy learning how to make Syrian string cheese?  An interesting non-sequitur, but it got my attention.  “Who wouldn’t?” I exclaimed and awaited further instructions.   Well, today is the day!  A flurry of emails resulted in a well-oiled plan.  Laurie and her 85-year old neighbor, Laurice Najjar, the cheese maker, would be coming at 12:30 p.m. after shopping for ingredients.  They would be making two stops:  first at Lioni Latticini in Brooklyn, for cheese curds (“Do you know them? Fantastic mozzarella,” Laurie wrote), then to a Syrian market near 78th St. and 3rd Ave. for herbs.  My instructions:  A very large stockpot ( 20 lb. turkey size,  Laurie noted) is required for the brine which Laurice will bring unless you have one.  Beyond that, not much else is needed, she said.  “I’ll provide kosher salt and foil, but one egg from you would be good.”  A last-minute detail was the need for a spice grinder, which I have, and I’ve got the egg ready!   I asked Laurie to pick up some Syrian goodies for us to munch on for lunch and I am just now making my signature “Venetian Wine Cake” for dessert.   Laurie’s friend Midge, a photojournalist, is joining us and — as a great treat for us all — my dear friend, the food maven Arthur Schwartz, is coming, too!

The art of making Syrian string cheese, I’m told, comes from the melting and working of the cheese to just the right elasticity.  It then gets pulled and braided into shape.  Known by its Arabic name, jibneh mshallaleh, it is made from cow’s milk and a Middle-Eastern spice, called mahleb.  Today we may be adding other herbs and spices.  It’s lots of fun to eat the cheese, strand by strand, and chase them down with sips of licorice-perfumed ouzo.   But today, we’ll just have tea.  Wish you were here.

4 Responses to “Syrian Cheese Making, Part I”

  1. Jackie Gonzalez March 9, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    Roxanne – You struck gold getting Laurice Najjar to make Syrian cheese with/for you – she’s the best! I was privileged to grow up watching “Laur Laur” and my mother learn to make it in the kitchen of the Grand Dame of Syrian cooking – their mother Emily Kassar. When my son was born 25 years ago, Auntie Laur Laur made me his birthweight in cheese – 8 pounds, and shipped it to me in Boston. Bless her hands!

  2. Janet Bland July 28, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    That’s it??? Where’s the rest of the story?

  3. Anabel Spicher March 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    pices and herbs are common in most foods around the world today. Both are used to flavor foods and some for medicinal purposes. Herbs and spices have both been prominent throughout human history. In earlier times, herbs and spices were considered luxuries and only available for the use of the wealthy. Herbs and spices were also traded frequently between nations in medieval times. Many people do not know the difference between an herb and a spice. There are many similarities between the two, and some of the differences are very subtle, but they are still valid..

    Freshest piece of writing on our very own blog site


  1. Tastes of the Week « Rozanne Gold - June 12, 2012

    […] highlights: Wonderful, homemade string cheese!, compliments of Laurie Sandow, who, with her friend Midge, twisted many braids of the delicious […]

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