Braided cheese is a dairy product made from strips of highly elastic cheese which are wound together to create a braid. Armenia, Italy, Syria, and many Latin American nations make varieties of braided cheese. Many markets carry braided cheese, especially those which carry an assortment of boutique cheeses. The cheese can be used in a variety of dishes or eaten plain.
Italian mozzarella, Syrian Akawi, and Latin American Asadero are all examples of braided cheese. These cheeses can be produced in a non-braided form as well, but braiding is a neat way of packaging and storing these cheeses. All of these cheeses are made through a process called “spinning,” which makes the cheese smooth and highly elastic. Spun cheeses are also extremely thready when pulled apart, like classic string cheese.
To make braided cheese, fresh milk is pasteurized to remove risk of bacterial infection. The milk is mixed with citric acid and rennet to promote the formation of curds, which are cooked and then strained through cheesecloth to separate out the whey and liquid. The curd forms a roughly solid mass in the cheesecloth, and is cut into strips before being gently warmed again to make it soft and slightly gooey. Then, the strips are pulled like taffy to create a shiny and highly elastic cheese, which is formed into tight braids.
Typically, braided cheese is brined in salty water to cure. Braided cheese may also be smoked or mixed with other flavorings for a distinctive taste. The resulting cheese is usually best when eaten very fresh, when it has a creamy, nutty, complex flavor. The cheese braid can be gently teased apart to extract strips of cheese, or it can be used in large chunks in pastries and other dishes. The unusual shape also make it a popular inclusion in appetizer platters.
A braided rope of cheese can be quite long, or very small, in a personalized size. Many manufacturers pull their braided cheeses out of brine for sale, so they are slightly dry and salty. Others sell moist braided cheese in brine, and the cheese should be rinsed before use to help extract some of the salty flavor.
As a general rule, braided cheese has a creamy white color and a neutral to milky odor. The cheese should be firm when pressed, and should not have soft spots or areas of discoloration. Keep braided cheese under refrigeration until it is used, and re-wrap any remainder in fresh plastic to reduce the risk of contamination.