Vivian Vezirian-Hovsepian is an amazing cook! Her yalanchi recipe is to-die-for, as is her Manti (according to her very lucky grandchildren) – and – she makes fantastic string cheese as well! Vivian’s late mother, (Aunt) Vicky, was talented in the kitchen and made it her business to pass along her treasured family recipes to her one-and-only daughter. Vivian learned well and set out to follow in her mother’s footsteps by passing these special recipes down to her own children, grandchildren – and to me – her cousin.
With the assistance of her grandson Christian, Vivian prepared her string cheese recipe in easy-to-follow steps following the traditional procedure of “achkee-chop”. Allow me to explain: “achkee-chop” means to prepare food by ‘eyeballing’ ingredients and the steps in preparation – or – in other words, preparing a recipe without relying on a formally written recipe.
Because I’m not always an ‘achkee-chop’ cook, Vivian helped me piece together her string cheese recipe that would work for cooks like me!
Thank you, Viv!
PS: I would suggest having someone to help in order to cut down on the preparation time.
Homemade Armenian String Cheese
- Microwave oven
- 2 microwave-safe pie-shaped pans
- food scale
- 5 lbs. fresh **mozzarella curd (**Check your local Italian markets- or pizzerias – for the curd. I’ve heard that fresh mozzarella can be used in place of the curd, with acceptable results.)
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground mahlab, or more, according to your taste (Sold in Middle Eastern stores)
- 2 tsp. Nigella seeds, optional (Sold in Middle Eastern stores; black caraway seeds may be substituted)
- Salt (to be used AFTER cheese is stretched)
- * These steps are for making one braided string cheese at a time. If you plan to make all 5 lbs., plan on spending about 1 hour in all to complete this recipe.Cut the 5- lbs. of curd into about ½-inch thick, uniform slices. Using a food scale, measure approximately ¾ lb. of the cheese slices for each string cheese 'bundle'. You should have enough cheese to yield 8 or 9 final products.
- To help save time, place cheese slices in 2 microwave-safe pans, arranging the slices side-by-side without overlapping. Lightly sprinkle the ground mahlab and nigella seeds, if using, on top of the cheese slices, gently patting them in.
- Working with one pie pan at a time, microwave the cheese at 70% power. Start by heating for 1 ½ minutes. Continue to microwave two or three more times at 30-second intervals -or until the cheese looks smooth, not clumpy. (Please note that microwave ovens vary, so it is recommended that you do a test batch so as not to ruin the cheese.)
- With a wooden spoon work quickly to manipulate the cheese in order to incorporate the mahlab and nigella seeds, and to combine and smooth out the pieces of cheese.
- Using oven mitts or potholders, remove the pie plate from the microwave and drain the excess whey (liquid). (Note: the whey can be saved for future use in making choreg and other recipes.)
- Since the cheese will be hot, carefully test with your fingers for softness. If the cheese feels soft to the touch, carefully roll it into a ball. (Note: Have a bowl of ice cold water handy as you’ll need to keep your hands wet for the stretching, looping and twisting, and braiding procedures.)
- Take the hot ball of cheese and make a hole in the center with your finger as if making a doughnut. (Note: You'll need to work very quickly at this point because the cheese cools rapidly once you begin to stretch it.)
- Using both hands, stretch the cheese in opposite directions to form a large loop. Double the strand of cheese to create two strands of cheese of even length – and stretch, loop and twist. Repeat the technique of stretching, looping, and twisting several times. (Note: the more you stretch the cheese, the stringier it will become – and that's a GOOD thing!)
- Twist ends in opposite directions to create a rope and intertwine it into a braid. Place one end through the loop of the other to secure its shape. (Remember to wet your hands periodically throughout this procedure.)
- Set braided cheese in a food storage container. Sprinkle the top with salt and gently pat it into the cheese. Allow the braided cheese to dry thoroughly.
- Continue the above steps until all the cheese curd has been used. (Note: it will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to make 8-9 braided cheeses.)
- Vivian's technique for cooling, drying and storing: Once all of the cheese braids are shaped, lay them side-by-side in a large food storage container and cover with a lid allowing them to dry out overnight on the counter. The next morning, refrigerate the cheese braids until they firm-up as the cheese will be quite soft at this point. Once cooled, wrap each braid with plastic wrap and then place in a food-or- freezer storage bag.
- Two alternate techniques for cooling and drying: 1.) Once braids are made, place them in a bowl of ice water for about 30 minutes to cool, then place them on layers of paper towels to dry. -OR-2.) Place braids in a food storage container, pat dry with paper towels, cover container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for one hour until cooled.
- To Store: Once braids cooled and dried, wrap each one with plastic wrap and then place them in a food-or-freezer storage bag. Store accordingly. Note: Cheese will keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week, or in the freezer for about 2 months.
- When ready to serve, unwrap the braid, cut through one end of the loop, and gently separate the cheese into thin strands. Serve with chorag, simit, or other Armenian-style breads- plus fruit, olives, and traditional Armenian coffee. (Note: if cheese has been frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before serving.)