If you are a lover of cheese and a lover of Middle Eastern food, you will be excited to know that there are many instances where the two meet. Whether it is in sweet desserts like Knafeh or in Cheese fatayer and Cheese Manakish, there are a many cheesy Middle Eastern dishes to enjoy.
You will be even happier to know that there are Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cheeses that are becoming just as popular as Mozzarella! Here's a crash course on four of them.
Texture: Soft and creamy
Aroma: Mild and fresh
Is it yoghurt or cheese? The texture is somewhere in the middle with Labneh being considered a healthier substitute for cream cheese. Like many Middle Eastern dishes, it is very versatile.
Drizzle some olive oil over it and use it as a dip for your pita chips. It can work as a sauce, use it in a marinade for meats or use it in baking breads and tarts. And if you want to give your fruit smoothie that unique tangy flavour, go ahead and add some Labneh to it. It will also work to add some extra thickness to a smoothie if that is what you are looking for.
Texture: Semi- hard
Jibneh Arabia literally means ‘Arabic cheese’. It is popular in the Middle East and can be eaten alone, part of a cheese platter or a mezze plate. You can also use it in none Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dishes. Add a little flavour to your breakfast egg with a shaving of Jibneh.
Texture: Chewy and springy
Halloumi is one of the most popular cheeses from the Mediterranean region. This chewy native of Cypress can be fried and grilled. This is possible because of its high melting point and hard texture. When cooked, Halloumi will maintain its shape but will take on a nice brown colour. The aroma when cooked changes, becoming stronger. For this reason, some only like to eat it when cooked. It can be eaten all on its own or paired with other dishes.
Like many cheeses from the region, it is traditionally made with goat’s and sheep’s milk which are known to produce particularly unique flavoured cheeses. (Cow’s milk is used in more contemporary recipes.)
Add it to a fruit salad for a contrast or in a green salad for something fresh and chewy.
Texture: Soft, crumbly
Aroma: Mildly tangy
Feta originates from Greece so it is more a Mediterranean than Middle Eastern cheese. The flavour and aroma of original Feta cheese comes from the goat’s or sheep’s milk it comes from. With only goat’s milk, the flavour is sharp but gets milder when sheep’s milk is added.
The texture of Feta can range from soft to crumbly and hard depending on how old the cheese is. This cheese can be quite salty but you can rinse it off to reduce the salt content. Feta makes a great garnish for salads and desserts alike.