Middle Eastern Cheeses: The Best Varieties To Try


Do you love exploring different foods? Cheese from the Middle East might be a treat for you. This article will guide you to discover some of the tasty cheese varieties from this rich, diverse region. Let’s dive in and uncover the delicious options available.

Middle Eastern cheese often has a rich history. Each one has its own story and flavor. You might be surprised at the variety. Some are soft and creamy, while others can be firm and crumbly.

Have you ever tried cheese from Lebanon or Turkey? These places offer some of the best options. You’ll find cheeses perfect for snacking or cooking. Don’t worry if it’s new to you. That’s part of the journey.

The unique textures and flavors make these cheeses exceptional. Sharing these with friends or family can be a fun experience. It brings a bit of the Middle East to your table.

Ready to find your new favorite? Keep reading, and we’ll explore some must-try varieties together. We hope you enjoy learning about these wonderful cheeses as much as you’ll enjoy tasting them. Let’s get started!

2. History and Origin

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Overview of Cheese History in the Middle East

Cheese has a rich history in the Middle East. It probably dates back thousands of years. Early records indicate cheese-making in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. People discovered cheese by accident, when milk carried in animal skins curdled naturally. This region became well-known for its dairy innovations. Historical texts and artifacts show the significance of cheese in everyday life, rituals, and trade. Unlike Europe, cheese in the Middle East has a distinct saltiness.

Specific Geographic Origins

Each Middle Eastern country boasts its own cheese varieties. Lebanon is famous for its creamy Labneh. Syrian Nabulsi cheese has a robust taste, often spiced with nigella seeds. Iran produces Lighvan, a feta-like cheese made from sheep’s milk. Egypt’s Domiati is known for its soft, flavorful characteristics. Turkey offers Beyaz Peynir, comparable to feta, but with unique local tweaks. Each cheese reflects the geography, culture, and tastes of its region.

3. Middle Eastern Cheese

Artists impression of – middle eastern cheeses: The Best Varieties to Try


Halloumi is a semi-hard cheese from Cyprus, prepared from a blend of goat and sheep milk. Sometimes cow’s milk is used as well. Its firm texture makes it perfect for grilling, giving it a unique appeal. When grilled, it develops a crispy exterior while remaining soft inside.


Paneer is a fresh, non-aged cheese originating from South Asia but popular in the Middle East. Made from cow or buffalo milk, its mild taste adapts well to various dishes. Soft and crumbly, it’s often used in both savory and sweet recipes.


Labneh is a creamy, tangy cheese made from strained yogurt. It’s thicker than Greek yogurt and often rolled into balls and preserved in olive oil. Spread it on bread or use it as a dip; it’s versatile and delicious.


Nabulsi cheese hails from Palestine. Its salty flavor comes from being brined. Firm and white, it can be eaten raw, fried, or grilled. It’s often spiced with nigella seeds, adding an extra layer of flavor.


Akkawi, from Palestine and Lebanon, is a soft, white cheese with a mild, slightly salty taste. Frequently eaten at breakfast, its texture is smooth and pliable. It melts easily, making it great for sandwiches.


Kashkaval is slightly firm and yellow. With origins in the Balkans, it spread over the Levant. This cheese is flavorful, with a hint of sharpness. Perfect for slicing or grating, it works well on pizza or in salads.

Jibneh Arabieh

Jibneh Arabieh is a simple, white cheese made from cow’s milk. Originating in the Arabian Peninsula, it has a mild, salty flavor. Enjoy it fresh or use it in cooking; its meltability lends it to various uses.


Shanklish is a fermented cheese, sometimes coated in thyme or chili. Popular in Syria and Lebanon, its strong flavor can be an acquired taste. Often crumbled into salads, it adds an interesting twist.

String Cheese

String Cheese, also known as Majdoule, is a popular, braided cheese from Lebanon and Syria. Its salty taste and chewy texture make it a fun snack. Make sure to unwind it, strand by strand, for the full experience.

Queso Blanco

Queso Blanco, though a Latin American cheese, is also popular in the Middle East. It’s a fresh cheese, mild and firm. Often used in cooking due to its ability not to melt but soften, making it ideal for frying.


Bouregi is an Armenian-style cheese commonly found in Middle Eastern markets. This semi-soft cheese is typically used in breakfast pastries. Its mild taste complements both sweet and savory dishes.

4. Production Process

Artists impression of – middle eastern cheeses: The Best Varieties to Try

Traditional methods

In many Middle Eastern regions, cheese-making dates back centuries. Artisans often use age-old techniques passed down through generations. A common method involves heating milk, then adding a starter culture or rennet to curdle it. After curdling, the mixture is cut into curds. The curds are then drained to remove whey. This process can vary greatly between different cheese types.

Cheese-makers may also use cloth or baskets to mold the curds. After molding, some cheeses are left to mature. Other cheeses might be eaten fresh. Traditional methods can also include smoking or aging in caves. Each method imparts a distinct flavor.

Common ingredients

Milk is, naturally, the main ingredient. Sheep, goat, and cow’s milk are frequently used. Some varieties might even blend milk from different animals. Salt plays a crucial role in flavoring and preserving. Rennet, an enzyme, helps in the coagulation process. For certain cheeses, herbs and spices might be added.

Water is another essential component. It’s used during the washing of curds or brining. Many cheeses also rely on specific bacteria. These bacteria can give unique tastes and textures. Sometimes, natural materials like wax or leaves are used for wrapping. This can introduce even more flavors.

5. Nutritional Information and Health Benefits

Artists impression of – middle eastern cheeses: The Best Varieties to Try

Essential Nutrients

Middle Eastern cheeses offer a wealth of essential nutrients. They are typically rich in protein, which is vital for muscle growth and repair. Calcium is another key component, important for strong bones and teeth. These cheeses also contain vitamins like B12, which supports brain health and nerve function. Minerals such as zinc and phosphorus can be found, contributing to overall bodily functions. They generally have lower fat content compared to Western cheeses, making them a healthier option.

Health Advantages

Consuming these cheeses can provide numerous health benefits. High protein content helps keep you full longer, which may aid in weight management. The calcium present supports bone density, thus preventing osteoporosis. Furthermore, the vitamin B12 present can boost energy levels and improve mood. Probiotics found in some types can help with digestion and enhance the immune system. Additionally, the lower fat content can contribute to better cardiovascular health.

6. Uses in Cooking

Common Dishes Featuring These Cheeses

Kofta is a popular dish that often includes these cheeses, especially the creamy ones. Be sure to try Halloumi in salads, too. Many people integrate Labneh into breakfast spreads, alongside bread and olive oil. For dessert, Kanafeh uses Nabulsi cheese. Think about sprinkling some Feta on roasted vegetables. Fatayer, a type of pastry, also uses Akkawi. Did you know that Shanklish works well in a mezze platter? Shawarma wraps occasionally benefit with a bit of jibneh.

Cooking Techniques

Grilling Halloumi brings out a fantastic texture. Avoid frying at too high a temperature to prevent burning. Baking in moderation can yield delicious results with cheeses like Akkawi. Smooth Labneh can also be great when used as a dip. As for fried cheese balls, they work more smoothly when using a semi-hard type. Melting Nabulsi right into a dish adds a rich flavor. Dishes benefit from crumbling cheeses over just before serving for extra texture. Make pita sandwiches more vibrant with a smear of soft cheese inside. Try marinating some varieties in olive oil with herbs for added zest.

7. Cultural Significance

Role in Traditional Celebrations

Cheese plays an important part in Middle Eastern festivals. Eid is a big celebration where people gather and share meals. Often, special cheeses make these events memorable. During Ramadan, breaking the daily fast with a cheese-filled meal brings families together. These moments create lasting memories. Weddings, another key event, frequently feature elaborate cheese spreads. The flavors add festivity to the joyous occasion. Special holidays often see cheeses paired with sweet treats. Cheese isn’t just food; it’s tradition in action.

Regional Variations in Cultural Importance

Different regions value distinct types of cheese. In Lebanon, Akkawi cheese is often linked with breakfast and family gatherings. The taste connects generations. Syria is known for Jibneh Arabieh, a salty delight found in almost every home. Palestinians might favor Nabulsi cheese, which factors prominently in many seasonal dishes. Traveling across these areas, one encounters unique preferences. Different tastes tell their own stories. Some remote villages even have hidden recipes passed down through ages. Wherever you are, a specific cheese might be central to that area’s cuisine.

8. Final Thoughts and Tastes

Exploring Middle Eastern cheeses opens up a whole new flavor journey. Every variety has its own story, woven into the rich fabric of this diverse region’s culture. You’ve got creamy Labneh, salty Akkawi, and tangy Jameed, each bringing something special to your table.

Including these cheeses in your diet can elevate everyday meals. Enjoying them with friends or family can make those experiences even more memorable. Remember, each cheese you try is more than just food; it’s a treat.

Why not start your cheese adventure today? Not only will you be tasting delicious fare, but you’ll also get a glimpse into rich traditions and histories. These experiences can change the way you think about food.

Expanding your palate isn’t just fun; it’s educational. The next time you shop, look for these varieties. Ask your local store if they have them. If not, online shops are a great resource.

Whatever you choose, savor every bite. Take the time to enjoy the textures and flavors. Sharing these cheeses can be a unique experience with your loved ones.

So go ahead, dive in. The world of Middle Eastern cheeses is ready for you. They await, each offering something different and delightful. Bon appétit!

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