Build a Middle Eastern Cheese Platter
Winter naturally lends itself to parties and family get-togethers. If you find yourself hosting, impress your guests with an easy-to-build cheese platter, featuring Middle Eastern Cheese.
Naboulsi, a type of briny cheese, has a salty taste accented with the mild peppery flavor of black nigella seeds. Naboulsi can also be found without the black nigella seeds. With its tofu-like texture, the cheese holds up well to pan-searing.
A type of yogurt, Labneh is soft and spreadable similar in both texture and taste to cream cheese.
Twist (aka. Braided)
This briny cheese is fun to unravel. Its salty cheese strings can be wrapped around breadsticks or rolled around cold cut meats.
One of the most popular cheeses of the Middle East, Akawi offers a mild salty taste and semi-soft texture.
A firm cheese, which is typically aged for 3 – 4 months giving it a sharp, distinctive taste. Whole black pepper kernels embedded in the cheese give it a kick of spice.
Halloum, or Halloumi, shares a similar briny taste to Akawi but offers a slightly chewier taste. It can hold its shape when grilling and often comes with chopped mint garnished on top for added flavor.
9 Cheesy Tips:
- Decide what kind of party you’re having. Are you serving only finger food? If you’re serving dinner, offer the cheese platter as a hors d’oeuvre or as dessert.
- Plan for 1 – 2 ounces of cheese for every guest in attendance.
- Limit your cheese platter to 3 – 4 different types of cheese.
- Make sure the cheese is halal. Due to production demands, sometimes Middle Eastern cheeses will use rennet. Check for the halal (or vegetarian and Kosher) symbol if opting for packaged cheese. If you’re buying fresh, confirm ingredients with the deli clerk.
- Many Middle Eastern cheeses are briny and will pool liquid on the platter. Pat briny cheese dry before serving. Alternatively, grill or pan-sear briny cheeses to dry out the liquid if the cheese can hold its shape.
- Always label each cheese. It lets your guests know what they’re having and works as a conversation starter for guests to discuss their favourites.
- Put out a separate knife for each cheese. For soft cheese, a butter knife works fine. For semi-soft and firm cheese set out a pairing knife.
- Serve ample pairings and garnishes with your cheese platter. Choose from a variety of: cold cut meats; nuts and seeds; crackers and baked pita; and fruits such as pomegranate seeds, figs and grapes. Olive oil and honey are also fine selections.
- To store, wrap cheese in parchment paper and refrigerate. For briny cheese, refrigerate in a bowl of salt water.
This article is featured in Halal Food Magazine, Winter 2015 (issue 3)