Cheesy Delights: Georgian Cuisine’s Best Dishes With Cheese
Georgia is a cheesy country.
Someone once decided that we needed a word to describe over-the-top romanticism. Cute, sweet displays of affection that have certain kitsch feeling to it. The chosen term was cheesy. But I’m not talking about that type of cheesy.
Etymology is funny like that, but when I say Georgia is a cheesy country, I meant it in the most literal sense of the term.
We love cheese.
In Georgia, we really, really like cheese. A lot, even. To the point where cheese remains a pivotal part of any Georgian table, be it through a regular breakfast or one of our celebrated supra feasts.
What’s the deal with Georgian cheese?
Nothing—it’s just breathtakingly delicious. The type that makes you want to get another taste of that delightful lactic flavor alongside a bite of a shotis puri coming straight out of the oven.
But just because it’s delicious, it doesn’t mean Georgian cheese tastes anything like the types of cheese you’re used to in mainstream cuisine. Its flavor, texture, and consistency are particular and unique, which means it could take some time to familiarize your palate with its attributes. An acquired taste, my foreign friends have told me upon trying it for the first time.
Georgian cheese is, by its own nature, soft and moist. It is meant to be consumed fresh and with a slightly watery texture from time to time. Likewise, it’s saltier than what you might expect. Still, it boasts of a flavor that can easily complement most types of meals and wines within the country.
We already wrote all there is to know about Georgian cheese. If you want a more in-depth explanation of flavors, layers, and preparation methods, head there for a crash-course, at least until you drop by to taste it yourself.
And while it’s delicious to taste cheese on its own, you’re better off delighting your senses with the combination of flavors and textures you can expect from Georgia’s cheesiest dishes.
We’ve talked a whole lot about khachapuri, but it’s somehow never enough.
Talking about Georgia is talking about khachapuri. And talking about khachapuri is talking about one of the most beloved dishes in all of Georgia, known for the endless varieties and adaptations it can take without losing its essence.
And it turns out its essence is a stretchy, soft, salty cheese. And that is because khachapuri is, at its core, composed of about 50% cheese, maybe even more if I have a saying in the baking process.
Khachapuri is, in simple terms, bread with cheese. Magnificent in its simplicity, its relatively straightforward flavor combination is the key to its success, seducing the palates of Georgians and foreigners alike. The dough is like most—a combination of flour, water, milk, eggs, yeast, and oil. As for fillings or toppings, it’s usually egg, butter, and cheese. For the latter, Sulguni or Imeretian are the go-to choices.
The real difference, it turns out, comes from the shape of the bread and, subsequently, the type and distribution of the cheese on top. As such, each region, district, and even some cities have an individual take on khachapuri.
Recently, studies in Georgia have determined that there is an approximate of 53 straightforward variations of the traditional khachapuri formula with cheese topping and filling.
Perhaps the most insta-famous of all khachapuri variations, Adjaruli khachapuri has the bread baked in a distinctive canoe shape, while its concave surface is topped with egg, butter, and cheese, melted and cooked to the point of perfection inside the oven.
Traditionally, Adjaruli khachapuri prefers Imeretian or Sulguni cheese, ideally a mixture of both of them. However, foreigners that wish to try this delight can also opt for a combination of mozzarella and feta cheese as suitable substitutes.
As for how to eat it? That might be the best part—cut a piece of the bread, preferably the extremes, and dip it in the cheese-butter-egg mixture for a bite full of flavor.
If Adjaruli khachapuri is the most visually striking version of khachapuri, then imeruli is the most widespread one. In fact, odds are the first bite you’ll ever have of a khachapuri would be the Imeruli version, as it is the easiest to make and the easiest to eat.
Imeruli khachapuri is a round bread, usually cut in pizza-like slices. The dough is prepared in the same manner as all other versions of this dish do. However, instead of having toppings or a concave surface to dip in, imeruli khachapuri is filled with the egg and cheese mixture you’ve come to expect from khachapuri. While any soft and salty cheese is ideal, the Imereti take on the dishes prefers its local cheese for the job—Imeretian cheese.
Also called Mingrelian khachapuri, it is the buffer and cheesier cousin of the Imeruli variation. Khachapuri on steroids, so to speak, and one of my personal favorites.
Virtually identical to the previous recipe, what sets Megruli khachapuri apart from the rest is an innovation every cheese lover is bound to love. In addition to the cheese and egg filling previously described in the Imeruli variant, the dough is also topped by an extra dose of cheese for a fuller flavor, usually the chkinti-kveli version of Imeretian cheese.
So yes, you’re correct—this is cheese on top of your cheese, with some bread in-between. If you ask me, you can’t go wrong with that.
Guria’s version of the khachapuri is unique, to say the least.
For starters, its shape is unlike any other take on the famous bread—a crescent, similar to that of croissants.Its singular appearance sets it apart to other khachapuri, to the point where some locals even call it Gurian Pieinstead.
Another difference is that, in Guria, natives don’t eat this dish regularly. In fact, it used to be a ceremonial dish saved for special occasions, and nowadays it’s traditionally eaten only during Christmas.
But perhaps the most notable aspect of Gurian khachapuri is its take on the cheese and egg combination. The dough is kneaded and flattened in a circular shape, then filled with chopped Imeretian cheese and boiled eggs.
Too good to eat only once a year.
If you can to be technical, achma is yet another type of khachapuri. However, the cooking method, texture, and flavor of this dish is unique enough to deserve its separate category.
Although it is by definition a bread with cheese, it bears more similarities with Italian lasagna than otherwise. The dough takes the same ingredients and kneading process than every other khachapuri. Still, instead of baked in a bread shape, it is separated into sections and rolled into thin slices that then proceed to get boiled, just like pasta.
The filling is, once again, a mixture of soft cheese (Imeretian or Sulguni), eggs, and butter, mixed until it reaches a cream-like consistency. After all the slices of dough are boiled, they are layered on a casserole one by one, alternating with filling in-between each of them. The dough layers are coated with butter, particularly the top one, before baking in the oven.
The result? A crisp crust on the top layer and a soft interior filled to the brim with a bite after bite of delicious cheese with a buttery texture.
By all means, chvishtari is an evolved Georgian version of the famed cornbread, a staple dish in most cuisines. Its main difference? Power-up through lots of cheese.
Native to the northwestern province of Svaneti, this traditional dish is an evolved form of the basic cornbread mchadi, a quintessential Georgian recipe. Basically, it involves adding somewhat large pieces of Sulguni cheese to the kneading process before frying the round bread.
With five to six pieces of delicious cheese on each bread, you’re guaranteed a mouthful of cheese on each bite.
But there are other versions of the famed Chvishtari. For example, the Megrelian one.
The mchadi dough is prepared as always, but the cheese distribution is different. Instead of cutting five to six cheese pieces to knead with the dough, the Megrelian version encourages you to cut a single large and thick square of Sulguni cheese, roughly the size of the dough ball. Then, you should wrap the dough around the slice, to ensure it ends up tucked neatly in the middle, before frying.
This way, instead of many bites of cheese around the cornbread, you enjoy a mouthful of Sulguni right in the middle every single time.
Nadughi is best described as a dairy product. While I believe it’s a type of soft cheese, others classify it as a Georgian type of sour cream. Regardless of what you choose to believe, what no one can deny is its addictive umami taste, and its soft texture similar to that of ricotta or cottage cheese.
Usually served as an entrance dish or as an essential ingredient in another preparation, nadughi is the cheese serum produced after souring milk, usually aromatized with peppermint for extra flavor. It is exceptionally protein-rich, so it’s suggested to consume it only as an occasional treat.
In the market, you may find it in numerous combinations—natural nadughi, infused with peppermint, or in a creamy presentation by mixing it with sour cream.
Beautiful to look at and delicious to bite into, gebjalia is Georgia’s quintessential hors d’oeuvre. Although you can eat it whenever you want it, this dish is traditionally reserved for special occasions or supra feasts.
Created in the Samegrelo region, it’s plausible it was used in ancient times as a sacred dish during feasts in the name of pagan sun gods, explaining its circular shape. Regardless of this, nowadays, gebjalia comes in many different forms, yet the traditional rolls remain the most widespread take.
The recipe is outstandingly simple. The central star is Sulguni cheese, dipped into simmering milk, mixed until it turns soft and stretchy. After reaching this point, the cheese mass should be taken out and rolled so it can take shape, before flattening it upon the surface.
It is then that gebjalia starts taking shape. The flat layer of cheese is brushed with a mixture of ground mint, savory, pepper, garlic, and salt, and then it is rolled onto itself and cut in pieces. To complete the dish, it is covered with a sauce made of nadughi, sour cream, and cheese.
Decorate with a few fresh mint herbs and voilà—a masterpiece.
Have you noticed how many cheese dishes come from the Samegrelo region? They are, undoubtedly, the masters of cheesy cuisine within Georgia, and elarji is further proof of their skills with dairy dishes.
Okay, look. I am aware elarji doesn’t look like the most appetizing food. With its thick consistency, irregular texture, and muddy white color, it’s bound to wrinkle the noses of those that seek their food to be aesthetically pleasing.
But as any enthusiast of traditional food can certify, food can be mind-blowingly delicious, regardless of appearances. And once you take a bite of the stretchy elarji, all doubts in your mind will vanish. Along with the rest of the food on the plate.
Elarji is made from coarse cornmeal and cornflour, as well as lots, lots of fresh Sulguni cheese.
The cornmeal is washed until the water comes out free of impurities, then cooked in low heat for half an hour before adding the cornflour and slices of cheese until it melts.
The result? A thick and sticky mixture that stretches very easily and makes for a fantastic side dish.
Ready for more cheesy goodness, straight out of Samegrelo? Of course you are!
Gomi is, in many ways, almost identical to elarji, both in procedure and taste. It is also a thick cornmeal preparation mixed with cornflour and cheese. Still, its structure is somewhat different from the dish mentioned earlier.
The cornmeal is prepared as before—washed and cooked for half an hour in low heat, before adding the cornflour. However, instead of mixing and melting the cheese within the preparation, Sulguni slices decorate the surface of the gomi after it is served. Some even enjoy including pieces of butter to complete the decadent delight.
Bet you’re dying for a bite right now.