When I used to think of string cheese, my thoughts went to Polly-O, the string cheese of elementary school lunches. As a kid, I’d thought they invented the stuff. It was the only string cheese I’d heard of, and as far as I knew, all the world really needed. As the commercial said, it’s “the best part of the pizza, without the pizza.” It was the stretchy, salty, processed (but who cared) star of every kid’s lunch box (if you didn’t have a Fruit Roll-Up). Oh, what little we knew.
Armenian String Cheese is an entirely different world. It’s like trading Velveeta for fresh Buffalo mozzarella. Cheese Whiz for a grass-fed goat cheese. You won’t want to turn back. My brother and Katherine actually took an Armenian String Cheese making class at a random church in Providence over the holidays. Apparently, they were the youngest people there by a few decades, and Joe and his father-in-law were the only men in the room. Nothing like a room of elderly Armenian women to show you what’s what. We recently paid them a visit and got a replay of the class, fresh cheese curds and all.
Armenian String Cheese (Tel Baneer)
From the Women’s Guild at the Sts. Sahag & Mesrob Armenian Church in Providence, RI
2 quarts water
1½ cups Kosher salt (or ¾ cup table salt)
4 trays of ice cubes
5 pounds cheese curd, cubed
Combine salt and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Stir and let cool. Bring cheese cubes to room temperature, divide into 8 portions. Place one portion of cheese into a nonstick pan and melt on low heat. Stir lightly until completely melted. Cheese will form into a soft mass. Remove from heat and drain excess water.
Place cheese on a flat plate and sprinkle with your desired amount of nigella seeds. Place a hole in the middle to resemble a bagel.
Carefully stretch open like a long rubber band. Twist it, fold it over, and stretch again.
Do this several times. As the cheese cools it will be more difficult to stretch. When the cheese is 10-12″ long twist ends in opposite direction and the cheese will form a braid. Fold one end into another; this will knot the cheese.
Place ice cubes into the cooled water and drop in the cheese for approximately 45 minutes. Taking the cheese out earlier will result in a less salty cheese. It will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator. If you don’t plan to eat it right away, dry and wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze. Allow cheese to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving. Pull it apart and form strings. Makes 8 string cheese braids.