Blue cheese of the Middle East: Shanklish
Wondering what is Shanklish? Well first let me tell you it is one of my favourite brunch/lunch time treats in the Middle East. Possibly I could eat it everyday but that would result in the total over consumption of bread and a true wheat belly would be in the foreseeable future.
Shanklish is a cheese typically made from cow’s milk in Syria and Lebanon, that has first been turned to yogurt. The yogurt is then churned further to separate the butter from the yogurt. The result = skimmed yogurt. The skimmed yogurt is then heated, so it separates and you get bluish liquid on top and a white mass at the bottom. This is then strained through a cheese cloth and hang for up to 12 hours so most of the liquid can drain out. You are now left with what they call Arish. Salt is added at this point and the cheese is formed into balls as big as a tennis ball. Spices or red pepper can be added to enhance the flavour.
The balls are then rolled into zaatar, where thyme is the main ingredient, then placed outside in the sun to dry for a maximum of 10 days (depending on the texture you want). After the drying, the cheese is moved back indoors, wrapped in individual cheese cloth and placed in a container and left in the dark to ferment. Anytime from 1 week to 1 month. Shanklish varies thus a lot in taste, flavour and texture depending on the ageing process. The longer the ageing process the darker the cheese and the more pungent the flavour.
Shanklish is typically eaten with chopped onion, tomato and a drizzle of olive oil, as in the recipe I provide. It can also be enjoyed paired up with eggs or added to a sandwich with cucumber, mint and olive oil.