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22
Jun

Here is another guest post from my wonderful and very erudite friend, Charles Perry. It  is just as fascinating as the previous two, although I can’t quite believe it is completely safe to eat. Perhaps I will try making some now that I am back home and spending all summer in London.

kamakhrijal copy

Charles Perry: When people make cheese, they curdle milk and press out the whey to make a less inviting environment for bacteria that would spoil it. But in medieval Baghdad, they had another method. They mixed milk, yogurt and salt, put it in a tub — open to the sky — on their rooftops in the hottest part of summer and left it there till October. You’ve just got time to start a batch!

I suspect the reason for this odd technique had to do with a shortage of cool cellars for ageing cheese in Baghdad. In fact, you don’t really need the outdoor location or summer heat. I’ve made kâmakh rîjâl in my dining room, where it was quite the conversation piece, I can tell you.


The recipe still works just fine. It comes out smelling a bit like Cheddar, though with a semi-liquid consistency. It’s really a cheese spread, not a slicing cheese, and people often added garlic, mint or thyme, as we still do with spreadable cheeses such as Boursin. Since this was the Middle Ages, they as often added spices instead. I’ve tried cinnamon kâmakh rîjâl, and I must say it had a mysterious charm. Rose petals, though, were a little too exotic for me.

At any rate, it needs no special equipment, just a mixing bowl and a spoon, so you really can do this yourself. All you need to do is stir it up once a day and add more milk from time to time to make up for evaporation.

Here’s how you make it. Mix 1 part yogurt with 1 part salt and 5 parts milk. Apart from the daily stirring and occasional topping up with more milk, that’s all the work involved.

It starts smelling cheesy after three weeks, and then really, really cheesy around week six, and you can actually use it as a spread by then. The medieval recipes say to age it 14 or 16 weeks, though, and the flavor does become richer and a bit less sharp and salty if you do. Flavorings can be added at week 12.

How does this work? The flavor of cheese is produced by bacteria which are indigenous to milk. The reason that milk doesn’t automatically turn into cheese if you let it sit around is that more aggressive bacteria from the air will spoil it before the cheese bacteria have a chance to do their work. In kâmakh rîjâl, the salt and the lactic acid of the yogurt create the necessary hostile environment to repel bad bacteria.

The kamakh rijal in the photo is 12 weeks old. Since it was aged indoors, rather than on a rooftop in the middle of summer, I alternated fresh milk and evaporated milk to give a thicker texture.

Note: This recipe is for the entertainment of consenting adults only. I can’t guarantee that it will always produce a safe result, but the batches I’ve made were fine and the fact that the recipe was widespread in the Middle Ages suggests that it is safe.

Anissa: Thank you Charles. It is definitely a recipe for consenting adults. As I said, I shall be making it this summer and will report on my progress if, that is, I live to tell the tale!


There is 26 comments on this post


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Fascinating!
    It should be safe, shouldn’t it? Doesn’t tarhana contain yogurt … and it’s left out to dry in the sun, no?
    And in Van I purchased large sun-dried yogurt ‘balls’ to add to a sort of Kurdish soup … they must have sat out for quite a while.
    But I wonder if an especially humid climate with frequent rain (I’m thinking Malaysia of course) would render this process rather more risky? (Perhaps if Charles looks in on the comments he might respond to this).


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    he normally does but i’ll mention it to him anyway. the point about the sun-dried yoghurt balls and tarhana is that they dry completely before you eat them whereas this cheese is still pretty moist by the time you get to eat it which is rather unusual. i will start one tomorrow and will write abt my progress, perhaps every two weeks.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I will also start this afternoon and compare progress!!! will be gone for a month to the middle east but will ask a friend to take care of it!!!! love the idea. I also would like to try muri when i get back.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i have tasted charles’ muri at oxford and it wasn’t bad at all. let’s see how the cheese turns out.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    As to Robyn’s concern, I don’t think the humid climate would pose a problem. This product is preserved by salt and lactic acid, not by drying. The only difference the climate would make is that you would top it up with milk less often, so it would come out with a thinner consistency. To correct for that, I’d top up with evaporated milk instead of fresh milk.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    kamakh “niswan” started in my kitchen!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    and i will start mine tomorrow!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    love this!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    me too. will be starting my own tomorrow.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Having spent some time in Baghdad, I have to wonder how the dust might have affected this recipe.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    HI anissa, it was done not on purpose in medieval times! one day somebody forgot the milk in a bucket for long time and this is how the cheese was born. a casual discovery… lol


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    well, don’t you think they would have covered the bowl/s with cheesecloth or something similar!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    the milk and the yoghurt!!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    stirring once a day the kamakh in its pot in the kitchen… movers around all week, just hoping dust will add to it a touch of baghdadi feel!!!!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    let’s hope. am about to start mine.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I hadn’t thought about dust. None of the recipes says to put a cloth or anything of the sort over the pot. Maybe that’s why kamakh rijal is made the rooftop — would there be less dust up there?

    To be accurate, only one recipe says to use a pot — the rest say to use a bottle gourd, but I can’t imagine there’s any difference.

    Another thing I’ve wondered about — cats, who can easily navigate rooftops. Maybe the yogurt-salt combination was designed to repel them in the first place.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Whoa!! Like you, I can’t quite believe it’s safe to eat either. Although we have made creme fraiche using a similar technique. But we haven’t left it on the counter for more than a day or so.

    Of course, there’s no salt in creme fraiche.

    I’m not sure that we are brave enough to try making this cheese. But if we do, we’ll definitely cover it with cheese cloth. Cats and/or raccoons might be repelled by the yoghurt and salt but flies wouldn’t….


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    how did you make the creme fraiche? and does it taste like creme fraiche? i am curious. and Charles, there may have been a lot less dust in those days, don’t you think?


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Yes, Anissa, it tastes just like creme fraiche.

    We stirred a half tablespoon of buttermilk into a half cup (125ml) of whipping cream (18% cream works too), covered the bowl with plastic wrap and left it overnight at cool room temperature (8-12 hours) til it is thick. We then put it in the fridge to thicken it further.

    We used ultra-pasteurized supermarket cream… because that’s what’s readily available to us. We have also successfully made creme fraiche using 10% cream. It takes much longer on the countertop (at least 24 hours) to set.

    A word of caution: yoghurt CANNOT be used in substitution for the buttermilk. The bacterial cultures are different and only the bacterial cultures in buttermilk will set the cream.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    great. thanks elizabeth. will try it.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    great. thanks elizabeth. will try it.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    great. thanks elizabeth. will try it.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I look forward to hearing how it turns out, Anissa.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Intriguing!
    I am looking forward to reading more about this experiment.
    By the way, would the recipe work with normal, storebought, pasteurized milk? I live in the US and that is what is available to me.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    So, how did it work?
    I have a batch fermenting in the back room right now. I went for putting the milk/salt mixture in a gourd. Definitely evaporates the liquid and needs extra added. Especially now at about 8 weeks – I can’t add liquid fast enough to keep up with evap.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    mine didn’t work at all. too salty. had to chuck it out. let me know how yours comes out at the end.

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