I am turning into my father. Well, culinarily speaking, that is.
He loved the classic Armenian snack of cucumber and string cheese.
First, the cucumber. The cucumber used to be from his garden, then in later years, from the grocery store or farmers market. I just love the small, tender Persian cucumbers I find at Trader Joe’s, but when I took him some once, he didn’t have much truck with those – he liked his veggies BIG, and, I suspect, thought it was a waste of food to harvest vegetables when they were young, although I tried to explain that these are bred to be small. About.com has a nice description of different types of cucumbers. I haven’t come across the Armenian variety they list, and don’t recall that from my grandparents’ garden – they probably had no access to those seeds. I used to grow lemon cucumbers myself, and love those, but have almost never seen them in a market, although I suspect some farmers markets might have them occasionally.
And the cheese – well, Dad used to spend quite some time painstakingly separating the strings into very fine strands and creating a pile of what looked like white hair flecked with the black nigella seeds. Armenians take great pride in the fineness of their strung cheese, and the kids (at least the patient ones) often helped, too. You can buy string cheese in many stores now, including supermarkets. It looks like a fat braided knot, and sometimes has no seeds, or might be coated with Italian seasoning.
The cheese you see here I purchased on a trip to Delicious Orchards, and I only today got around to opening it. Turns out it is from Fulper Farms (in nearby Lambertville) and what I really loved about it was that it wasn’t so heavily salted as supermarket varieties seem to be. They also make the Italian version, but I’m a purist so stick to the Middle Eastern theme. The nigella seeds are essential to me, their faintly oniony flavor is my own version of Proust’s madeleine, transporting me back to an Armenian family gathering. Without any added seasoning, you’ve basically got mozzarella, in which case, I’d rather have Italian mozzarella.
Like mozzarella, you can make your own string cheese starting with curds, and my friend, chef and food writer (and fellow Armenian) Pam Parseghian (on twitter @pparseghian), made some once that my father polished off immediately, because hers, too, wasn’t salty.
I was too impatient (i.e. hungry) today to string this cheese as it should have been but, also, it seemed more tenderly breakable that what we used to buy, maybe due to less salt?), so might have presented a challenge. But it was DELICIOUS, I assure you, and you can find Fulper Farms at some area farmers markets, too, such as at Princeton, Forrestal, West Windsor, and Montgomery. Dad would have just loved Fulper’s string cheese.