Mountainous Armenia, a small country, between Persia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, is endowed with verdant pastures in the north.
Here, in the summer, sheep, goats, and cows spend their days on the lush highland pastures and in the winter on lower altitudes. Their milk tastes the way milk should – pure and delightful without additives. The animals thrive on natural, chemical-free pasturelands composed of many herbs and a range of grasses that provide the special flavour.
Naturally Armenian cheeses taste as cheese should, deeply flavoured and texturally correct.
Armenians eat cheese at breakfast, and as appetizer. All meals start with an assortment of cold appetizers – sliced garlicky spicy, dried sausage, marinated and preserved tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, olives, seasonal salads and cheese.
Curiously, cheese is rarely used in cooking. Although this is changing gradually, mostly due to exposure to western cuisines and availability of a number of cheeses.
Since its independence from the U. S. S. R in 1991, the cheese industry has made considerable advances, and from my observations more is on the way. Entrepreneurs are investing much capital and energy in this time-honoured industry.
Farmers for milk production have for centuries used the short summers in the high Alpine meadows to benefit from the lush meadows.
Armenians have traditionally regarded cheese as an essential part of their diet. The art of cheese making is a carefully protected tradition.
Here is a selection of typical and modern Armenian cheeses. More are in their development stages as I have been able to witness during my visits.
Suluguni – this semi-layered, pale yellow, pleasantly tart, pasteurized milk cheese contains 45 – 50 per cent fat in dry matter, may be used as an appetizer, for pizza, in stuffing vegetables, and for hot sandwiches.
Chechil (string) is a cow’s milk, strung, semi-soft with a mildly salty braided cheese, weighing anywhere from 300 to 1.5 Kilograms. It contains 10 – 40 per cent fat. Mostly used as an appetizer.
Smoked cheese – a soft textured cheese with many small holes. It is preserved in brine. This aged, relatively fatty cheese has a sharp salty taste and is usually served as an appetizer.
Lori – this semi soft moderately aged, salty and dense cheese contains 50 per cent fat in dry matter. Mostly used as an appetizer, and grates on pasta dishes.
Tashir – is round and with big eyes like Emmental, similar texture and colour. It possesses a nutty flavour and is often served as an appetizer or instead of dessert.
Emmental – resembles the original from the Emme Valley in Switzerland, but has a darker colour than its ancestor. Generally aged for two months, rarely longer. Those aged for more that six months are more expensive, but possess a stronger and more complex taste.
Edam – is a copy of the Dutch original made with milk from the lush meadows in northern Armenia.
Kolbi – resembles cheddar and generally aged for six months. Used in salads, sandwiches and as an appetizer.
Mastara blue – consists of cow’s and ewe’s,milk. This blue, piquant, creamy, crumbly cheese has 50 per cent fat and often served an appetizer, or instead of dessert. Modern cooks use it in sauces for grilled meat.
Dzor – is a soft, delicate, crumbly, brined goat’s cheese similar to feta. Mostly used as an appetizer and in small pieces of Dzor marinated in oil infused with herbs, spices, peppers and black olives, served mostly as an appetizer.
Yeghegnadzor (buried cheese) – is a white, soft, herb-infused goat’s milk cheese made in clay pots. After six months of aging, it acquires a salty and sharp flavour, appreciated by gourmets.
Kateh – made from ewe’s milk in pots. This crumbly, herb-infused soft cheese is served as an appetizer.
Some of these cheeses are available in Armenian grocery stores in the U. S. A, namely in and around Boston, Los Angeles, Pasadena, New York and Chicago where many Armenians live.