Beirut's an­tique dis­trict

The goat dair y prod­uct, am­ba­rees, has a long his­tor y in Le­banon, but as its tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion process fades out it’s at r isk of be­ing lost. The Food Her­itage’s Foun­da­tion’s Zeinab Jeam­bey ex­plores the tra­di­tion and how to preser ve it

Lebanon Traveler - - FRONT PAGE -

Am­ba­rees, also known as sird­eleh or lab­net

al jarra, is a tra­di­tional dair y prod­uct com­monly pre­pared in the Bekaa Val­ley and the Shouf moun­tains in Le­banon, where

bal­adi and shami goats are re­spec­tively the main graz­ing an­i­mals that pro­duce it. The word sird­eleh refers to the ear then­ware jar in which the dair y prod­uct is pre­pared. Dur­ing the goat-milk­ing sea­son in June, the process star ts by fil­ter ing and pour ing raw goat milk and coarse salt into spe­cial clay jars that are por­ous in na­ture, with a hole in the base for drain­ing pur­poses. The mix­ture is lef t to fer­ment at room tem­per­a­ture un­til the curd sep­a­rates from the whey wa­ter, at which time the liq­uid is drained through the jar’s open­ing. Over the span of the sum­mer, the process of adding milk, coarse salt, fer­ment­ing, and drain­ing is re­peated un­til each jar is filled with curd. The curd is then lef t in closed jars for four months to com­plete its fer­men­ta­tion process, at which stage am­ba­rees de­vel­ops into a type of lab­neh, yel­low­ish in color and sour in taste. Through­out the fer­men­ta­tion process the prod­uct acid­ity r ises, thus elim­i­nat­ing micro­organ­isms that would oth­er­wise be harm­ful. “The process of mak­ing am­ba­rees is ver y del­i­cate and one has to have a high level of hy­giene so that it doesn’t ruin the fi­nal prod­uct,” says shep­herd and

am­ba­rees pro­ducer Boutros Bou Maroun, from Sagh­bine. “That is why, tra­di­tion­ally, we say that only the pro­ducer can check over sird­ele jars, oth­er­wise the prod­uct will dis­in­te­grate.” Once am­ba­rees is ex­tracted from the ear then­ware jars, it can be ei­ther packed in glass jars, sealed and sold, or formed into balls, fur ther dr ied on cheese cloth tow­els, then placed in glass jars and preser ved in olive oil.

Am­ba­rees is mainly con­sumed as lab­neh, ser ved with olive oil and eaten for break­fast or din­ner. In the vil­lages, many spread it on saj bread and heat the bread

on a wood-fire oven be­fore eat­ing their sand­wiches. In vil­lages with the cus­tom of am­ba­rees pro­duc­tion, it is com­mon as a main in­gre­di­ent in sal­ads, mix­ing it with purslane, toma­toes and onions, or re­con­sti­tut­ing it with wa­ter and boiling kebbe meat, a var ia­tion of kebbe bi la­ban. In Niha El Shouf, am­ba­rees is an es­sen­tial par t of their lo­cal cui­sine. Abla Ma­jed, from the vil­lage is a long-time pro­ducer of the dair y prod­uct. “It is one of the most im­por­tant foods in our vil­lage,” Ma­jed says. “We are used to hav­ing sird­eleh for break­fast rather than lab­neh.” Though highly ap­pre­ci­ated by vil­lagers and dair y prod­uct con­nois­seurs, qual­ity am­ba­rees is hard to find nowa­days due to the de­crease and mal­prac­tice in its pro­duc­tion, re­lated to a com­mon fear among the pop­u­la­tion of raw goat milk prod­ucts, the loss of tra­di­tional knowl­edge about the im­por­tance of the pro­cess­ing method and the cul­tural ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this her itage prod­uct. Sim­i­larly, mal­prac­tices in its pro­duc­tion method has led to changes in both sen­sor y and health proper ties of am­ba­rees. “Un­like what peo­ple think, goats are the clean­est an­i­mals,” says shep­ard and am­ba­rees pro­ducer Mo­ham­mad Tem­rez, from Maaser El Shouf. “They pick and choose what to eat and mainly graze on oak leaves and the tips and buds of wild plants.”

SIRD­ELEH JARS FACE EX­TINC­TION

Pot­tery use for stor­age, cook­ing and trans­fer­ring dairy prod­ucts in south eastern Europe, Ana­to­lia and the Le­vant re­gions, are as old as seven mil­len­nia BC. But nowa­days it is hard to find qual­ity sird­eleh jars and the earth­en­ware con­tain­ers now used are of ten poorly glazed and tend to dis­in­te­grate due to the ris­ing acid­ity re­sult­ing from

am­ba­rees fer­men­ta­tion. For this rea­son, many am­ba­rees pro­duc­ers are aban­don­ing earth­en­ware ves­sels for plas­tic bar­rels, which im­ply ma­jor threats to its food safety and its cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. The loss of the tra­di­tional pro­cess­ing method of sird­eleh is threat­ened be­cause the skill of mak­ing sird­eleh jars is not be­ing passed down through gen­er­a­tions of pot­tery mak­ers. In an at­tempt to safe­guard this tra­di­tional dairy prod­uct, the Food Her­itage Foun­da­tion and the Cham­ber of Com­merce, In­dus­try and Agri­cul­ture in Zahle and Bekaa are col­lab­o­rat­ing to raise aware­ness about this prod­uct and its tra­di­tional pro­cess­ing tech­niques. Un­der the EU funded pro­ject Lac­timed; funds will be geared to­wards jar pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion to am­ba­rees pro­duc­ers and for train­ing on food safety and hy­giene dur­ing pro­cess­ing.

Photo: Roula Kous­saifi

Photos: Food Her­itage Foun­da­tion

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