Ambarees or Sirdeleh is one of the world’s oldest and rarest cheeses, but it now is at risk of becoming extinct.
An iconic product of the Bekaa Valley, this goat milk cheese is made in unique clay jars. The time-consuming process of producing this cheese (also known as Labnet al Jarra
) is causing cheese makers to abandon the tradition.
Having survived over 2,000 years, there is a very particular method for making Ambarees: clay jars are rubbed and soaked in warm water and coarse salt for around a month before being filled with goat milk. This step is ideally completed in May because the milk is denser due to goats feeding on dry grass. Fifteen days later, the water residue of the milk is drained and fresh milk is topped up repeatedly until mid-September and then covered with cotton cloth. A month later, the Ambarees is manually removed from the jars and packaged.
These days, only a few producers of this cheese are left in the Bekaa and the cost of production is high.
Some of the blockers for continuing the production of this delicious labne-like cheese are the lack of availability of appropriate clay jars that are porous and durable enough for the fermenting process, the lengthy process for producing small quantities of cheese, and the red flags raised by the use of unpasteurized milk.
Though they do not quite fit in with our speedy modern lifestyles, the cultural significance of food cannot be ignored. Have you tried ambarees? Let us know if you enjoy it in the comments section. To find out where you can try this iconic cheese, contact The Food Heritage Foundation.