Shoushan’s Homemade String Cheese With Nigella Seeds
Shoushan Stepanian is the sister of my good friend Vartan Nalbandian. She makes this string cheese for Oleana, and we serve it as a bread condiment alongside our Armenian Bean and Walnut Pate on the pret-a-manqer (ready to eat) menu. Shoushan’s cheese is sweet and nutty, and the nigella seeds give it a subtle celery flavor.
The texture is fantastic: softer and silkier than commercial varieties and not nearly as salty. String cheese sold in Middle Eastern and Armenian stores is usually brined and can be very salty. When I’ve tried soaking that cheese in cold water to remove excess salt, the texture becomes mushy. Other commercial brands, found in grocery stores, are rubbery from stabilizers and overprocessing.
String cheese is easy to make, but it takes some practice to get it just right. For your first time, you’ll want to order an extra pound of cheese to practice with. The practice batch may not look very appetizing, but it will taste delicious. You can also order a few pounds of cheese and make the string cheese in three batches. Kids love this recipe; they have so much fun stretching the cheese.
You need a good source for cheese curds. I get mine from www.todarobros-specialtyfoods.com. You can buy it by the pound, and it usually arrives the next day. String cheese freezes very well, so you can make a big batch and keep it handy in the freezer.
Makes1 pound of string cheese or 1 large braid
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturechewy, nutty, savory, sweet
- 1 pound mozzarella curd
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon nigella seeds
Cut the mozzarella curd into small pieces and place them in a Teflon pan. Add the salt and nigella seeds.
Heat the cheese on low, stirring, until it is melted thoroughly and there are no lumps left.
Remove the cheese from the heat and drain off the excess water in a colander.
While the cheese is still very warm but cool enough to handle, pick it up in a large lump and poke a hole in the center with your fingers, so that the cheese resembles a large doughnut.
You will need to work very quickly at this point because the cheese cools down rapidly once it has been stretched. You’ll have about 3 minutes to stretch the cheese. Grab it with both hands and stretch it so that it forms a large loop. Stick your finger through each end of the loop, and very quickly start winding the two strands of the loop around each other, as if you were making a rope while winding. Keep stretching the cheese gently, almost to the breaking point. The more you stretch, the stringier the cheese will be. When finished, you should have a length of cheese that resembles a thick rope or a tightly wrung-out dish cloth.
Twist the ends of the cheese in opposite directions and intertwine the rope into a braid. Place one end through the loop of the other to lock it.
Set the cheese aside in the refrigerator or in a cool room for about an hour to dry thoroughly. Wrap the cheese in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it; it will keep for a week in the refrigerator and up to 2 months in the freezer.
To serve the cheese, open the braid, cut one loop, and pull the cheese apart into thin strands. Serve with pita bread.
2006 Ana Sortun