Armenian yogurt cheese balls are gloriously simple but just so delicious that you won’t be able to stop at one. A creamy texture with a little tang, and layers of flavor from the chives, Aleppo peppers, garlic, and dill. They’re perfect finger food.
I’ve returned to my delicious culinary heritage with savory and passionate recipes. I grew up with the flavors, scents, and seasonings of Armenian cooking–a cuisine that combines Mediterranean flavors with Persian and Russian accents including lots of typical maza dishes, like these surquig.–Victoria Jenanyan Wise
WHAT ARE ARMENIAN CHEESE BALLS SIMILAR TO?
There are other Middle Eastern cheeses that are made in the same way, as well as a few that are more familiar to North American audiences. It’s a lot like cream cheese or even goat cheese. If you’ve ever had labneh (from the Levant) or shaklish (from Lebanon) then you’ve had another version of this gorgeous appetizer. Some are a little more crumbly, some are a little saltier, but that’s often up to the cook’s discretion.
Armenian Yogurt Cheese Balls
For the yogurt cheese
- 1 1/2 quarts yogurt
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the marinated cheese balls
- 2 cups yogurt cheese (above)
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic pressed
- 2 teaspoons chopped dill leaves
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- crackers for serving
Make the yogurt cheese
- Drain the yogurt by lining a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth, making sure to have a generous drape over the sides. Set the colander in a bowl that holds its bottom well above the bottom of the bowl. Place the yogurt in the colander and set aside at room temperature to drain until reduced to 4 cups, 2 to 4 hours, depending on the consistency of the yogurt you begin with. Use right away, or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Stir the salt into the drained yogurt in the colander. Cover and refrigerate to continue draining. Leave for 12 hours (overnight) to achieve a cream cheese texture. Leave for 24 hours to achieve a firmer, chevre-like texture. Be sure to pour off the whey accumulated in the bowl whenever it reaches up to the bottom of the colander.
Make the marinated cheese balls
- Divide the cheese into 13 portions and roll each into a walnut-size ball. Arrange the balls on a plate lined with paper towels so they're not touching. Cover loosely with paper towels and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours, until firm.
- In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, dill, and Aleppo pepper. Dump the balls into a jar with a lid. Pour the oil mixture over the balls, secure with lid, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to 1 week.
- To serve, arrange the yogurt balls with some oil in a deep dish, sprinkle the chives over the top, and accompany with crackers.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Despite the time it took to prepare the cheese balls, the results were amazing. I served these with other cheeses and crackers for a wine and cheese party and everyone loved them! They were surprised that I had made them. The cheese was still a little soft (firm enough to hold shape, but soft enough to spread on a cracker) but the marinated oil made it very tasty.
I love recipes that act as a launching pad for all sorts of variation ideas like this one did. The yogurt cheese was quite tasty on its own. It would be nice on a bagel in place of cream cheese. The flavors of the marinade made the cheese even tastier. It added a nice edge to the smoothness of the cheese.
This would be great to serve as an appetizer. The herbs and spices could be changed for endless taste variations. Blending the spices right into the cheese would also make a great topping for baked potatoes, bread or crackers, or a dip for vegetables. This one is a keeper!
Originally published February 19, 2004