No one knows exactly who made the first cheese, but, according to one ancient legend, it was made accidentally by an Arabian merchant crossing the desert. The merchant put his drinking milk in a bag made from a sheep's stomach. The natural rennin in the lining of the pouch, along with the heat from the sun, caused the milk to coagulate and then separate into curds and whey. At nightfall, the whey satisfied the man's thirst, and the curd (cheese) had a delightful flavour and satisfied his hunger.
Primitive forms of cheese have been made since humans started domesticating animals. From its birthplace in the Middle East, cheese making spread as far as England with the expansion of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, monks and merchants of Europe made cheese an established food of that area.
In 1620, cheese and cows were part of the ship's stores carried to North America by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.
Different varieties appeared largely as a result of accidental changes or modifications in one or more steps of the cheese-making process. Because there was little understanding of the bacteriology and chemistry involved, these changes were little understood and difficult to duplicate. Cheese making was an art, and the process was a closely guarded secret that was passed down from one generation to the next.
Milk, both fresh and sour, and particularly in the form of yogurt, is a very ancient ingredient in the cooking of the Arabs. In some soups, laban is added at the end of the cooking and allowed to become hot, without boiling.
The first Jewish pioneers who came to Israel from East European countries more than a hundred years ago, were accustomed to using milk and its products. They settled in the country with the objective of developing local dairy cows. But the production of the local cow was poor, and the European cows, which gave better milk yields did not acclimate to the local conditions.
The settlers therefore decided to develop a special local breed of cows, produced by cross- breeding local Damascus and Dutch Friesian stocks and the rest is history.
Several generations later........
Israel’s dairies produce a full range of hard cheeses . From kashkaval, blue cheeses, parmesan and mozzarella, to camembert and brie cheeses. Israel is known for its variety of soft, white cheeses available in a wide range of fat content with the prerequisite amount of cream added accordingly.
One of Israel’s savory attractions is its unique selection of fresh, spreadable, creamy white cheeses. Israel's 50 dairies (large and boutique) are supplied with the dairy they need to create a rainbow of Mediterranean dairy delicacies. Dairy farmers also raise goats and sheep in order to enhance their range of specialty foods.
Middle Eastern Cheeses
String cheese from Syria , white cheese in used for snacks and for cooking with a mild taste.
Naboulsi is a salty, fresh Boiled Cheese, that is popular in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Kenafa is an unsalted, very fresh, soft cheese that melts easily and freely. It is used to make the popular knafe . It can also be used as a base for other sweet cheese desserts.
Kashta is a heavy cream that is very popular in the Middle East. Used both as an ingredient in cooking and is mixed with honey to be eaten as an incredibly rich dessert.
Jibneh Arabieh is a simple cheese found all over the Middle East. It is particularly popular in Egypt and the Arabian Gulf area. The cheese has an open texture and a mild taste. The heritage of the product started with Bedouins, using goat or sheep milk, however current practice is to use cow's milk to make the cheese. Jibneh Arabieh is used for cooking, or simply as a table cheese.
Akawi - a Middle-Eastern-style cheese with complex flavor, used as a table cheese.
Cyprian Halloumi is a stretched curd cheese produced from sheeps's, cow's or goat's milk. It has a shape of small loafs in different sizes. The cheese has no rind. Chopped mint is often added to the curd, which adds some life to otherwise milky-bland taste. Halloumi is a perfect cooking cheese. It will hold it's shape after grilling or frying.
Testouri from Egypt is shaped like orange, is a cheese made from sheep's or goat's milk and is eaten fresh and lightly salted. This cheese was introduced into North Africa by the Ottomans after the 15th century.
Sardo from Egypt is a hard, long-lasting cheese made from sheep's milk, often used for grating.
Anthoriro from Greece is a traditional, unpasteurized, whey cheese made from sheep's and cow's milk. The cheese is dry and white and has no rind. It is eaten for breakfast with honey and fruit, in savory dishes with oil and wild herbs.
Feta is one of the most famous cheeses in Greece. It is made in various sizes, often as a loaf-shape. Feta is solid, but crumbly with some fissures. Originally made with either ewe's milk or a mixture of ewe's and goat's milk. Feta can be soaked in fresh, cold water or milk for a few minutes or longer, if necessary, to make it less salty.
Israeli Feta has a unique texture that can be sliced. Feta cheeses come in a range of flavors that depend on the milk used for their production . It is especially suitable as an addition to salads and works well in cooked dishes, savory baked goods, sandwiches and party dips.
Tzfatit is a delicate, salty cheese. One of Israel’s most popular cheeses, its flavor is especially delectable when served with slices of fresh vegetables, olive oil and herbs such as zatar.
Bulgarian Feta from Israel is made from pure goat’s milk and is therefore suitable for people sensitive to beef protein.
Graviera is one of the most popular cheeses in Greece. Wheel-shaped cheese. Graviera has a sweet and fruity taste.
Greek Kaseri. pale yellow in color with a mild, buttery flavor and a springy kneaded texture. There is no rind but the white crust is smooth, creamy and springy. Quite salty and pungent, with a dry feel in the mouth, it has an underlying sweetness due to the sheep's milk.
Myzithra is a cheese made from whey of Feta and Kefalotyri, available both fresh and aged. Fresh Myzithra is soft, similar to cottage cheese. Aged Myzithra is shaped like an ostrich egg and is firm and pungent, and makes an excellent grating cheese.
Kefalotyri was already well known and respected by the time of Byzantine era. The name comes probably from Greek word "kefalo" that means hat. Yellow cheese with sharp aroma, is generally served grated over cooked dishes.
Iraqi Meira is made of sheep's milk. The curds are cut into strips and matured in a sheepskin bag for six up to twelve months.
Labane is a cheese shaped into small balls and very popular in the Middle East. Made of sheep's or goat's milk and is eaten young, almost liquid.
Airag cheese comes from Turkey and is made of horse's milk that is used sour and is similar to Kefir.
Mihalic Peynir comes from Turkey. Hard cheese made from sheep's milk made in various sizes and shapes, usually balls or slices and is stored in brine.
Beyaz Peynir , another fresh cheese from Turkey and the most popular, made from sheep's milk, white and rindless, the cheese has a grainy appearance and is used in salads, pastries and many local dishes. This cheese resembles feta. It is soaked in cold water or milk before use, to remove the excess salt.