Taste of Autumn, Darfieh Goat Cheese

Dr Tomostyle  food, travel and lifestyle blogger, tweeted that ‘in Japan, autumn is referred to as 'Shokuyoku no Aki' 食欲の秋, roughly translated to 'Autumn of Hearty Appetites'’.

This intimate connection between food and seasons is universal; be it Japan, Italy or Lebanon our appetites are triggered by changes in the weather and the available produce.

High up in the mountains of North Lebanon, as autumn draws near, the air becomes cooler and calmness sets in when the summer buzz is over; the season is heralded with a deliciously pungent goat’s cheese, which people eat rolled in thin village bread - markouk or tannour.

Made with unpasteurised milk, darfieh cheese relies on an ancient method of maturation inside a darf, or goat’s skin. Had it not been for this fact, darfieh is almost too simple to prepare. Goat herders, who make it, first add a starter culture either of goat’s rennet or dried goats’ colostrum (which gives the cheese its distinct flavour). 

They then leave the raw milk in 30 to 35°C ambient temperature until liquids and solids separate. They strain the mixture and mold the solids in chunks, which they salt and allow to drain further. They heat the remaining liquid or lacto serum until a further separation occurs thus producing a granulated cheese similar to ricotta, called arishe, and otherwise eaten sweetened with sugar or honey.

The procedure takes an interesting turn when they clean a goat’s skin, and rub its inner side with salt. The pores act as a sieve slowly releasing water and allowing fermentation. They skillfully tie the skin to form a pouch leaving one small opening to allow them to fill it with layers of cheese and arishe. Securely tied, the darf is left for 3 to 6 months on wooden slats in a dark and damp store.

Cheese taken out of the dare or goat skin

At the outset, this white cheese is soft and has a distinct goaty taste; as it matures, it becomes harder and the taste more peppery and complex. The cheese keeps in glass jars in the fridge for several months. 

A regional delicacy unknown to city dwellers, darfieh is linked in the minds of people born in the North of Lebanon to end of summer memories and frugal evening meals. The silhouettes of the herders’ wives carrying their goatskin bundle cut through the fog in the afternoon as they wandered down to the village to sell their cheese.  Today the Slow Food movement in Beirut is slowly placing it on the Lebanese food map with plans to help improve both pasture and production. 

Dried colostrum

Matured darfieh cheese

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