Shanklish are aged and spiced cheese balls with a sharp flavour that are commonly eaten in the Levant.
Shanklish/shankleesh is a Syrian blue cheese that is commonly eaten in the coastal regions of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. It has a similar texture to feta but is much more pungent in flavour. It is typically eaten with pita bread as part of a breakfast mezze spread or can be eaten as a salad, crumbled up and tossed with tomatoes and onions.
Shanklish is made by heating yogurt and separating the curds from the whey. It is then strained in a cheesecloth overnight. The strained cheese is then mixed with spices, formed into tennis-sized balls and left to dry in the sun for a week. Now, as I live right behind a ravine, I don't dare leave my shanklish out in the elements where they'd attract all sorts of critters. I dry my shanklish in my solarium, but you can also dry them indoors on a table.
Historically, shanklish was aged to make it last throughout the winter, until the next summer when a new batch can be dried out in the sun. You can often find shanklish in Middle Eastern grocery stores wither packed in olive oil or in a vaccum seal bag. I always preferred to make my own shanklish, following the recipe passed down from my grandmother. Making shanklish is a time and labour-intensive process but the outcome is worth it.
Short-Aged Shanklish vs Mature
There are two types of shanklish: short-aged and mature. Short-aged simply means that the shanklish was allowed to dry in the sun for a week. The result is a delicious, tangy ball of hardened mild-flavoured cheese.
Mature shanklish means the cheese has been allowed to ferment over time to develop a much more pungent flavour. After the cheese balls are dried, they are placed into a glass jar and left in a dark place where they will develop a black mold. The mold is part of the aging process and integral to achieving the sharp flavour. The longer the cheese is aged, the more intense and sharp the flavour. After a month or two, each shanklish ball is washed and scraped of the mold completely. It can then be eaten as-is, or rolled in spices and stored.
I've included both methods below.
Shanklish can be stored dry in the fridge for up to three months. It can be stored in olive oil in the pantry for up to six months.
I dry my cheese in my solarium, where I allow the sun to dry them. However, many people also dry it on their dining room table. Be forewarned, whatever room you dry them in will smell like pungent cheese.
More Syrian Breakfast Recipes
- Kishke Khadra - Fermented Yogurt & Bulgur Salad
- Mamounia - Toasted Semolina Pudding
- Batata bil Kizbara - Warm Potato & Cilantro Salad
Shanklish - Aged Spiced Cheese Balls
- 2.5 kg yogurt
- 6 tablespoon white vinegar
- 4 tablespoon salt
- ¾ cup zaatar divided into ¼ cup and ½ cup
- 3 tablespoon Nigella seed black seed
- 2½ tablespoon paprika divided into 2 tablespoon and ½ cup
- In a saucepan, add yogurt, vinegar and 2 tablespoon salt and simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- When it comes to a boil, the curds will begin to separate from the whey. Keep stirring for one more minute. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
- Pour into a cheesecloth and allow to drain overnight. The yogurt shouldn’t be too dry; we still want it to be a little wet (so it can hold the shape of the ball).
- In a bowl, mix the yogurt with 2 tablespoon salt, ¼ cup zaatar, 3 tablespoon nigella seeds and 2 tablespoon paprika. Taste the yogurt before you form the balls; if you want more zaatar, salt, etc., add it now.
- Form balls per the size you wish and put them on a clean towel on a tray (the towel will absorb the rest of the water).
Short-Aged Cheese (1 week)
- Put the tray in a dry, sunny place to dry for 7 days. Change the towel every time they get soaked (every 1-2 days). The shanklish balls will be hard and dry.
- When the balls are dry, dip each one in olive oil and then roll in a bowl of zaatar or paprika (or whatever topping you want).
- Store them in a jar filled with olive oil.
To Make Mature Cheese (1-2 months)
- If you’re going to dry them for 1-2 months:
- Put the tray in a dry, sunny place to dry for 7 days. Change the towel every time they get soaked (every 1-2 days).
- After one week of drying on a towel, put them in a jar and let them dry for 1-2 months. A thick mold will develop on the surface. Make sure to wash off all the mold before moving on to the next step.
- Dry the balls and dip each one in olive oil and then roll in a bowl of zaatar or paprika (or whatever topping you want).
- Store them in a jar filled with olive oil.