Braided Armenian String Cheese

Braided Armenian String Cheese
Braided Armenian String Cheese
Penny Cherubino

Last month Erin conducted a string cheese poll asking Serious Eaters how they ate it: string-by-string or bite-by-bite. The results had more than 80% of you stringing it.

But my method wasn't exactly either: it first involves unbraiding. I buy my string cheese in braids that float in brine at the Middle Eastern shops in Watertown, Massachusetts. And, I do string it before serving it to family and friends as a lovely pile of strings! With that, the seed was planted for a string cheese-inspired road trip.

The spectacular one in the photo is from Arax Market (map here). The sign on the display says, "Armenian String Cheese, made from sheep's milk. Handmade braided cheese that is salty, but can be washed in cold water to get the desired flavor."

Traditionally, cheesemakers season string cheese with mahleb and nigella seeds. Most of the commercial, vacuum-sealed string cheese on the market is made with cow's milk and mozzarella curd.

Arax Market owner Jack Bassmagian told me his cheese comes from a producer in Montreal who he's been doing business with for more than 25 years. He described how to prepare this style of string cheese for your mezze table.

"You take it apart. You soak in cold water, not hot water. Hot water melts it. When you rinse it with the cold water, it takes the salt out and it stays perfect."

Braided Armenian String Cheese unbraided into strings.

"I give it a good rinse under very cold water, breaking the braid into ever smaller strands as I work."

How long should you soak or rinse it? That's a matter of taste, and it takes some practice. I learned the technique years ago from a Lebanese friend. If you soak it too long, the texture will change, and it can become mushy. I give it a good rinse under very cold water, breaking the braid into ever smaller strands as I work. And, I dry the large strands on a big kitchen towel to remove excess moisture that might soften the cheese.

I like leaving quite a bit of salt flavor in my cheese. But taste as you go and decide what's right for you.

String cheese served with pickled vegetables.

My serving tray had a combination of wispy strands in a bowl with some large strings beside it (for those who enjoy stringing their own). Pita bread, pickled vegetables, spiced olives, and hummus rounded out the mezze platter.