Every once in a while you come across a food item that evokes curiosity. Educating the palate as well as the mind is one of the best advantages you gain from travel, particularly when you can replicate the experience at home.
One such discovery from my travels to the Middle East is Syrian string cheese. Known by its Arabic name as jibneh mshallaleh, the white cheese comes in a braided mass that you untangle before you eat.
Made with cow’s milk, the cheese contains a middle-eastern spice known as Mahlab (or Mahlebi, Mahleb). The black spots on the stringy cheese are the seeds of the nigella sativa plant, called ḥabbat al-barakah or the “seed of blessing” which pepper it with a unique taste. During the culturing process, the cheese is pulled in a way that creates elasticity then it is braided tightly.
The cheese can be eaten as is, that is after you have unbraided and untangled it with your fingers.
For an easy to prepare snack, add a generous amount of the cheese inside a round of Lebanese bread or the smaller pita bread. I prefer Lebanese bread in this instance as it tends to be thinner. You could drizzle a little olive oil for extra taste if you wish, but not too much that the bread gets saturated.
Place under the griller until lightly toasted on one side, then flip and grill the other side. The cheese melts and binds to the bread. Take care that the bread doesn’t burn unless you like a lot of crunch.
Cut into quarters and serve immediately while still warm. The melted cheese has the consistency of mozarella.
Syrian string cheese / jibneh mshallaleh can be found in specialty Middle-eastern shops.
For more information about Aleppo’s food, don’t miss our food and drink guide: What to Eat in Aleppo Syria
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