Georgian’s ancient, long, deep-rooted history has become the fascination to many across the globe. Its long history has also inspired a ton of delicious and world-renowned cuisine that pleases the belly of millions.
Georgian cheese is no exception.
Georgian cheese is made in many regions and areas across Georgia and is known to be a favorite amongst connoisseurs and locals alike.
Georgian Cheese’s Culinary Role
Cheese and Georgian feeds have been going hand-in-hand since the dawn of cheese itself.
Traditionally, you’ll find that it’s served with shotis puri, a canoe-shaped Georgian bread.
It’s one of the most commonly eaten food combos in all of Georgia.
However, Georgian cheese might not be what you expect it to be. It’s miles away from Western cheese and may leave your palette feeling confused if you’re not prepared for what you’re about to ingest.
Typically, Georgian cheese is incredibly salty. This is because of the way the cheese is processed and stores and is one of the cultural highlights surrounding the cheeses. In other words, it’s to be enjoyed and isn’t supposed to gross you out. Many non-Georgians will struggle with this, but thousands claim it to be one of their favorite Georgian foods.
If salty cheese isn’t your thing, don’t fret. Less salty cheeses are commonly found and won’t be as much of a shock to your tongue. However, many locals will insist that the saltier cheeses are the superior kind.
Consistency also plays a large role in Georgian cheese culture. It’s often moist and maybe a surprise if you’re used to the thick, dense cheeses that are commonly found in the western world. If it’s extremely fresh, it may even have a water residue that coats the surface.
The Three Main Players
In the world of Georgian cheeses, you’ll find three main contenders that hog the spotlight. They are Sulguni, Guda, and Imeruli. These are the most common that you’ll find being served across Georgia.
Each has its own subtle, or extravagant, differences and will be used in different meals.
Let’s dive in.
Sulguni may be the most familiar cheese if you’re used to western cheeses or non-traditional Georgian cheeses.
It closely resembles mozzarella in texture and is semi-soft. It’s made with cow’s milk and is, by far, the most popular cheese found in Georgia.
If you’re not interested in a cultural cheese-shock, starting with Sulguni is a safe way to edge yourself into Georgian cheeses.
Typically, the cheese is served on the day that it’s made to maintain the integrity of its freshness.
They say the best Sulguni is made in Svaneti. Svaneti is Georgia’s sacred alpine region where weather conditions can make living relatively tough if you’re not prepared for the harshness that endures the region.
A popular way to eat the cheese is by smoking it. When smoked, the cheese will develop a brownish, hard coating. After this has been done the cheese, will most commonly be eaten with Gomi, a popular bread within Georgian cuisine.
It’s also known to be paired with mchadi, a traditional Georgian cornbread, shotis prui, and with lobio. If you’re in Tbilisi, enjoying the delicious beans of Salobie, you may encounter some Sulguni being served on the side of your clay pot of beans. The delicious duo is perceived as one of the heartiest meals you can put in your stomach and is extremely popular.
Overall, this popular Georgian cheese is sure to fill your stomach with pleasure. If you’re visiting and looking for things to do in Georgia, go to a local restaurant that is known for serving great Sulguni and enjoy some of the best cheese that you’ll ever eat.
Guda strays from other traditional Georgian cheeses. You won’t find water residue or a semi-soft texture in Guda, it’s one of the few hard kinds of cheese that makes its way onto dinner tables across the country.
While it loses the moistness of other cheeses, it gains in a boisterous odor. It’s got a lot more flavor packed into it than the other cheeses of Georgia.
It’s also commonly mistaken from the Dutch’s Gouda cheese. However, rest assured, they are vastly different cheeses and your palette is in for a surprise if you’re unaware.
The Guda cheese has its roots in the Tusheti region of Georgia. The area is known to be one of the most mountainous places in the country. However, it’s not a surprise when you realize that Guda cheese is made from goat’s milk. Because of this, you’ll often find dairy farms throughout the region that focus on utilizing the goat’s milk to make this popular Georgian cheese.
Traditionally, Guda used to be aged in a bag that was made with sheep’s skin to give it extra flavor. This is where it gets its name from. In Georgian, Guda translates directly to “sack.”
Nowadays, consumers would revolt at the thought of dried skin in constant contact with the cheese their eating. Modern problems require modern solutions and so Guda is now made using a plastic bag for the aging process rather than dried sheep’s skin.
The ruggedness and required effort to make this cheese helps it become popular in cuisine culture. The harder it is to make cheese, the more luxurious it will be perceived as.
In this case, Guda isn’t extremely difficult to craft but the living conditions required to produce its ingredients will come at a more expensive cost.
It’s also one of the saltier Georgian cheeses, so be prepared for a shock if you’re not used to the salty taste. It can also cause issues if you have high blood pressure or other ailments that won’t allow you to have much salt.
Imeruli is another wildly popular Georgian cheese and makes its way to many dinner tables as well.
Out of the big three, it’s considered to bolster the least amount of flavor. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad cheese, it’s popular for a reason. However, the taste won’t be nearly as overwhelming as Guda or Sulguni.
This makes it extremely flexible in Georgian dishes and can be found in many different meals with many different types of meat and vegetables.
You’ll know you’re seeing Imeruli by the distinctive bubbles that are found on the surface of the cheese. These occur when during the production process. If you find Imeruli cheese that doesn’t have bubbles, that doesn’t mean it’s not Imeruli.
However, it may suggest that the cheese is of low quality and wasn’t given the proper love and attention when it was being made. Avoid Imeruli cheese that looks like this to get the best-made cheese.
Most often, this cheese will be found in salads. That’s because when it’s unsalted and fresh, it’s rather stringy and chewy. This flavor and texture combo goes well with the crispness of salads and can add a popular layer for those who enjoy it.
It’s a brined cheese cured and can be eaten unsalted as well, so you won’t have to worry if you have any health concerns or issues and want to enjoy the deliciousness that Georgian cheese has to offer.
Other Georgian Cheeses
While Georgian tables and restaurants typically keep their cheese selection to three, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it.
Georgians are known for being inventive and discovering new things. Cheese is no exception.
While not as common as their popular brethren, other exquisite cheeses can be found all around Georgia.
Here are some of the highlights.
This is Georgia’s take on blue cheese and the most expensive cheese you can find made by Georgians. And, it’s for good reason.
This blue cheese is made from balls of cheese curds that have been dried and then lightly smoked to add texture and flavor. Afterward, they are put within a clay pot and covered with a dark crisp mold
After the cheese has been aged, you’ll find a delectable cheese that is fairly similar to the European cheese “Camembert.” The difference is that this cheese includes penicillin within it and uses a natural method of molding (the clay pot).
The aging method is and tedious process behind creating it is what makes Dambalkhacho the most expensive cheese in Georgia. However, many find it to be worth the price tag.
This cheese will commonly be paired with red wine or a fruit-flavored vodka. It’s found at wine bars and upper-class restaurants around the country. It’s also frequently melted and given with bread and prepared gravy for a wonderful mix of textures and flavors.
Tenili has roots within history itself. It’s the oldest type of cheese that is made from sheep’s milk but has evolved to be made with a complex process.
The recipe for this cheese is sacred and incredibly difficult to find. It’s only spread by the worth of mouth and is held closely to those who inhabit several villages with Georgia’s region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. However, it is known that the basis is the curd for Chechili.
If you’re wanting to get to taste this wonderful, secret cheese, you may need to visit Georgia within the winter months. It’s commonly served during the winter seasons as it pairs well with hot, filling food that many love in the cold. Don’t fret, this is one of the best times to travel to Georgia.
Interestingly, the process for making Tenili will require parts of a brined and dried calf’s stomach. They’re using for milk clotting and give Tenili a unique texture that boats its reputation.
Tenili is relatively easily cooked. It’s simply stuffed and pressed into a clay pot. This is where the name comes from. Directly translated, Tenili means “stuffed, pressed” in Georgia.
After the cheese has been cooked and is prepared for ripening, the cheese is stored and left alone to rest and mature. It’ll remain maturing for about two months before it’s finally ready for consumption.
The long, complex process and required materials makes Tenili incredibly difficult to craft on your own. Beyond that, the exact process and materials used are shrouded in mystery and kept close to the inhabitants of a few villages located in Georgia.
If you ever get the opportunity to try this cheese, make ample use of it and eat as much as your heart desires. If you’re looking for places to visit in Georgia, some of these villages that frequently produce Tenili can be a great adventure and you may even learn the process yourself.
If you’re wanting to learn more about traditional methods to make Georgian cheeses, check out this BBC article.
Kalti is a. type of cheese that is popular amongst the mountainous areas of Georgia.
This is because shepherds love to carry dried heads of this cheese with them. They’re a great source of energy, extremely tasty, and work in the favor of your health.
It’s produced from curd strains and is easily accessible to anyone visiting Georgia.
Chogi cheese is much more than a fun-to-say name. It’s a popular cheese that is typically cooked in the summer months of July and August.
It’s fatty by nature and made from sheep’s milk. While it may not be the best for your heart, it will certainly please your stomach.
It crumbles relatively easily, making it ideal for salads and as a topping. Simply crumble the cheese on top of whatever meal you’re eating.
The texture is remarkably varied and may resemble that of a rock. Of course, the cheese will be much softer but the resembles in jagged edges and overall structure remains similar.
Georgian cheeses are a highlight of Georgian cuisine. You’ll find one, if not several, types of cheeses that pair well with any meal.
From salads to bread, to fine dining, Georgian cheeses will almost always find a way to work themselves into your meal.
If you’re interested in trying more than one type of cheese, Tbilisi restaurants and wine bars will frequently have a variety of cheeses for you to choose from.