Saturday, April 25, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Chechil Cheese

     A few days ago I was browsing in the cheese section at my local Shop Rite, and came upon Armenian string cheese.  Which brought back cheese-related memories from when I was a teenager, in the mid to late 1980’s.  A fad swept through our area then, and it was string cheese.  I only heard of one type, and that was Polly-O brand.  (Since I’ve learned that Polly-O dates back to the late 19th century, but megacorporation Kraft acquired them in 1986, which explains why I then heard of them.)  They were basically rods of mozzarella cheese that you would peel sections off of, and eat plain.  They were good, but had a mediocre to bad reputation, sort of like Velveeta cheese.
     South Jersey doesn’t have a very high Armenian American population density, so I was totally unfamiliar with their culture and cuisine.  This changed a bit in college, as I met a friend (Hi Leon!) with Armenian ancestry.  One of his biggest cultural introductions to us was baklava, the sweet pastry dessert.  I recall his fellow housemates and I being a little hesitant to try some of his father’s baklava at first, but we were smitten at the first bite.  I’m sure Leon regretted giving us samples, as after a while we started to steal way more than fair shares from subsequent baklava pans.  I also learned that linguistically, surnames that end in “ian” are a strong indicator that the person has Armenian heritage.
     The cheese I bought was American made (Passaic, NJ to be precise), but evidently made by a family with Armenian roots (Gharibian Farms) in their traditional manner.  It looked quite different from the Polly-O type.  Instead of single serving rods, it was several ropes of white colored cheese, twisted together in a rough “Figure 8” shape.  Once opened the individual rope pieces would disengage quite easily with a slight tug.  The texture was similar to mozzarella, being semisoft and rubbery (in a good way).
     The taste was excellent, really top notch.  It was mozzarella-ish, but somehow distinct, with a very pleasing tanginess.  Granted, I’m almost impossible to disappoint, cheese-wise, given my complete adoration of the food type, but even so, it was great.  I easily finished my portion, and would heartily recommend it to others.  It was pricey (about $10 per pound), though.  Also, it’s oddly low in fat for a cheese.  One of the traditional spices in it is fairly exotic, too—mahlab, which is made from powdered black cherry pits.  That, salt, and black cumin or black nigella are the main flavoring agents.
     Therefore, Polly-O is the readily available, cheap, just okay version of string cheese, but chechil certainly surpasses it in taste.