Shankleesh – The Middle East’s Only Mold Ripened Cheese

If you have been to Lebanon or the Middle East, you may have tasted the different cheeses on offer. From stretchy, salty akkawi to mild, creamy baladiyeh to riccotta-like qareesheh, cheese is a central and well loved part of our diet. However, you may be lead to believe that our repertoire does not extend past fresh, white cheese. That’s where you’re wrong, sucker!

Enter shankleesh. You have possibly seen the vacuum-wrapped herb-covered ball-shaped curiosities at Middle-Eastern shops and you may have thought, what the? You may have walked by too scared to try something that strange. Allow me to demystify. Shankleesh is the only mold ripened cheese native to the Middle East. It is thought to have originated from Kurdistan, but is now mainly found in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Shankleesh is a compound word derived from the Kurdish ‘shan’, denoting a small terracotta pot; and ‘qareesh’, a Bedouin term for fermented milk.

It is said that you can find the best shankleesh in Rahbeh, Akkar (Lebanon’s most water-rich village- personal joke), but it’s mostly excellent anywhere where they use good milk. To make shankleesh, low fat yoghurt is strained until dry, then salted and strained again overnight. Afterwards the dry yoghurt is shaped into balls that are dried in the sun for a couple of days. Left to mature in air tight containers for a month, the shankleesh allows for the growth of Debaryomyces hanseni and Penicillium mold. This mold is rinsed and then the balls are covered with herbs and spices, mainly thyme and Aleppo pepper. Along with salt, these help inhibit bacterial growth. The result is a pungent, dry, crumbly cheese, full-flavoured and redolent with herbs and spices.

A great website with information on shankleesh is Slow Food Beirut. For some reason their shankleesh page is down, so I’ve found a link to Google’s cache. Have a read for much more in-depth information.

Shankleesh Recipe

Shankleesh is eaten with diced vegetables and loads of olive oil to balance the pungency and flavour onslaught. Traditionally one adds diced tomatoes, green capsicum and finely diced onions. I’ve added avocado to mine to give it a bit of creaminess. Simply crumble the shankleesh into a bowl, top with diced veggies of choice, add loads of olive oil and enjoy with Lebanese bread, or on top of toasted sourdough.

19 Comments

  • Gourmantic says:

    I’ve eaten it in my travels and enjoyed it. Can be an acquired taste for the uninitiated. I found the more olive oil you use, the more flavour you get out of it!

  • Fouad
    Have you ever tried making it?

  • Fouad says:

    Gourmantic – I agree. Olive oil goes so well with shankleesh. especially olive oil with bite
    Joumana – I’ve never tried, but the thought has crossed my mind. how about you?

  • amanda says:

    hey foo, i usually sneeze when i eat this i dont like the dusty kind of dryness of it, which is why its genius to put it with avocado and a lot of oil.

  • Fouad says:

    Hehehe. Genius? Thanks for the compliment… Do you need a favour? I’m not used to this kind of treatment…

  • Viviane says:

    I love shankleesh! never thought it is this easy to make! Although we use chopped parsley instead of capsicum with it. I think capsicum is worth a try. Avocado too actually!
    I think the best shankleesh I ate was when my sis got some from Ehden, home made and fresh. Delicious!

  • Yes, the Shankleesh is truly Eastern. In the West, the steps are slightly different. In the steps you gave it looks more like you are making yogurt but with different ingredients. I see you add the herb thyme and then spice the taste with pepper. This version of cheese that makes more use of herbs; making it truly Mid Eastern.

  • Sam Wight says:

    Hey Fouad
    I’ve had shankleesh once before, and it is great! I had no idea it is aged, hence the great taste. You mentioned Aleppo pepper in the post – do you know if you can get it in Sydney? Herbie’s doesn’t stock it, and I have checked a couple middle eastern shops on the North side and they hadn’t heard of it? I want to use it to marinate some quails and serve with turkish ezme salad.
    Interesting blog!
    Sam

  • Fouad says:

    Hiya Sam

    I’m actually like you. I haven’t seen Aleppo peppers in Australia. In Arabic they call it filful halabi. I’ll ask around next time I visit a new shop and see if I can find it, and will update the status here.

    Thanks for reading 🙂
    Fouad

  • […] tossed the mixture at the table and we ate the cheese-vegetable combination with bread.  Click here for a recipe for […]

  • jana says:

    omg, i love this cheese, can it it all day long..

  • Zeina says:

    Thanks for the amazing information about shankleesh, really appreciated =)

  • I think avocado with Shankleesh is an awesome idea, I tried it today and I thought I’d update. Great amalgamation of textures and taste, especially that the Shankleesh I had was spicy. Great tip!

  • Lebnzbatootah says:

    My mother used to make this all the time. i used to not appreciate it. As I got older, I learned. Now that she is not here it makes me smile to make it and eat it. Yummu!!

  • Lisa says:

    We were raised on shankleesh. Mom makes it with dried cottage cheese. We crumble it into scrambled eggs or smear it on toast. It’s the best!!

  • Lebnzbatootah says:

    I used to eat it with tomatoes onions olive oil and z3atar sprinkled on it and scoop it up with pita bread. That was is my favorite way to eat it. =)

  • […] Shankleesh is a semi-hard cheese make of goat’s milk and yoghurt. Basically, the milk is boiled and yoghurt is added to the boiled milk. The resulting yoghurt is strained unti dry and salted. They are then shaped into balls and sundried for a couple of days. They are then stored in air-tight containers. The cheese attracts the growth of mold. The mold ripened cheese is then rinsed and covered with herbs and spices such as thyme, pregano and pepper to prevent further growth of mold. […]

  • […] Shankleesh is a semi-hard cheese make of goat’s milk and yoghurt. Basically, the milk is boiled and yoghurt is added to the boiled milk. The resulting yoghurt is strained unti dry and salted. They are then shaped into balls and sundried for a couple of days. They are then stored in air-tight containers. The cheese attracts the growth of mold. The mold ripened cheese is then rinsed and covered with herbs and spices such as thyme, pregano and pepper to prevent further growth of mold.The resulting pungent dry cheese with crumbled texture is ready to be used. […]

  • Janet says:

    Wow …this brings back memories! I travelled to Lebanin years ago and spent time in Rahbeh…I remember mostly having it crumbled with scrambled egg…delicious! I think I might try make it myself…just hope I don’t poison myself… LOL

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