Syrian Cheese Making, Part I

Last month, I did a cooking class at Whole Foods on the Bowery.  It was a very enjoyable experience due in large part to the fabulous two assistants who cooked with me for the five hours that I was there-- prepping, schmoozing and sharing ideas. Kitchen gossip.  I was also delighted that several sated students (say that three times fast!) stayed afterwards to chat.  One of those avid class-goers, Laurie S., told me that she, too, lived in Park Slope and asked if I would enjoy learning how to make Syrian string cheese?  An interesting non-sequitur, but it got my attention.  "Who wouldn't?" I exclaimed and awaited further instructions.   Well, today is the day!  A flurry of emails resulted in a well-oiled plan.  Laurie and her 85-year old neighbor, Laurice Najjar, the cheese maker, would be coming at 12:30 p.m. after shopping for ingredients.  They would be making two stops:  first at Lioni Latticini in Brooklyn, for cheese curds ("Do you know them? Fantastic mozzarella," Laurie wrote), then to a Syrian market near 78th St. and 3rd Ave. for herbs.  My instructions:  A very large stockpot ( 20 lb. turkey size,  Laurie noted) is required for the brine which Laurice will bring unless you have one.  Beyond that, not much else is needed, she said.  "I'll provide kosher salt and foil, but one egg from you would be good."  A last-minute detail was the need for a spice grinder, which I have, and I've got the egg ready!   I asked Laurie to pick up some Syrian goodies for us to munch on for lunch and I am just now making my signature "Venetian Wine Cake" for dessert.   Laurie's friend Midge, a photojournalist, is joining us and -- as a great treat for us all -- my dear friend, the food maven Arthur Schwartz, is coming, too! The art of making Syrian string cheese, I'm told, comes from the melting and working of the cheese to just the right elasticity.  It then gets pulled and braided into shape.  Known by its Arabic name, jibneh mshallaleh, it is made from cow's milk and a Middle-Eastern spice, called mahleb.  Today we may be adding other herbs and spices.  It's lots of fun to eat the cheese, strand by strand, and chase them down with sips of licorice-perfumed ouzo.   But today, we'll just have tea.  Wish you were here.