She came to us with a piece of cheese in her hand asking us to use it on our Grilled Vegetable Bruschetta. She explained how she made this Romano-style cheese from fresh sheep’s milk and had aged it for several weeks. It was her first trial with this specific cheese and she was profoundly fond of it, as if it was the star of her offerings at that sunny warm barbeque gathering in the hills of Fuhais, Spring 2013. The fresh, mild taste and crumbly texture of the locally produced cheese came rushing back to me when I accidentally came across the Facebook fan page of a Jordanian artisan cheese maker: Mistaka. I wanted to know more about Mistaka and got excited about this season of cheese making. Meeting the artisan cheese maker and mastermind behind the brand, Nisreen Haram told me all what I wanted to know about this outstanding local venture.
It was through Nisreen’s environmental blog, Trash Can Diaries, that she noticed that there is huge potential for the hidden treasures of Jordan. “I started the blog to spread awareness of the increased amounts of garbage humans create on a daily basis and how to manage the waste in our homes. Our family managed to cut the waste to a minimum, and we try as much as we can to use environmentally friendly and recyclable materials,” explains Nisreen. “Hoping to turn totally green, I was trying to limit products with long shelf life that contain preservatives and cutting down our use of plastic and carton boxes.” This is where Nisreen started to search for substitutes for environmentally unfriendly commercial products, including dairy products.
During her research, Nisreen was introduced to some of the best suppliers of fresh milk in the country: the free-living cattle of the Bedouins. She was so taken by the taste and freshness of the milk and decided that cheese made out of this milk could taste just as wonderful. After a lot of trial and error, Nisreen finally figured out how to turn this homegrown milk into the perfect cheese. Her success with her experimentation led her to explore her passion a step further, so she took an educational trip to Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheeses. From that point on, Mistaka has gone through a quick, transformational journey that has enabled Nisreen to share her passion for cheese and start her own workshop to produce artisan cheeses in Amman.
In 2013, Mistaka Laboratory was established, allowing Nisreen to produce cheese on a much larger scale. Her hard work and dedication has enabled her to launch her first line of cheeses in April 2014. “Working with cheese is an adventure by itself. There are many variables that affect the final product: temperature, moisture, starter culture, aging environment, and of course the milk itself. This all makes it challenging and unpredictable. Every detail significantly affects the final product, and any fluctuation in any of those factors will end up producing a different type and quality of cheese,” she explains. While the basics of cheese making may be simple to learn, mastering such a craft is what differentiates one cheese maker from the other. “It is the same base ingredient, but understanding the factors affecting cheese making and mastering them is what distinguishes one cheese maker from the other.”
The cheese categories that Mistaka supplies reflect the seasonality of the milk used, which allows for the production of different items to be produced at different times of the year. “In Spring, the sheep graze on the greens and are fed from nature, producing high protein milk with low fat content. Moving to Summer and Autumn, the greens that the sheep eat is less, producing which leads to production of milk with a higher fat content – this that is translated into a more flavorful and rich cheeses.” explains Nisreen. The fresh milk of the Awassi sheep – -the finest sheep bread in the region – in addition to the craftsmanship that Nisreen puts in every cheese she produces enabled her to introduce three categories of dairy products and cheeses. Whether it’s a Mistaka White, Gold or Soft, the flavors of the artisan cheeses and dairy products are rich, sharp and fresh, leaving a truly remarkable eating experience and after taste.
- Mistaka Whites: dairy products including yogurt, Halloumi, Labneh, and Whey Ricotta cheese
- Mistaka Gold: aged hard and semi-hard cheeses influenced primarily by the cheeses of southern Italy and Spanish regions such as Romano, Pecorino and Manchego cheeses
- Mistaka Softs: soft, mild ripe cheeses influenced by the French cheeses such as Chevre and Brie
Aiming to change the way Jordanians think about and use their marvelous local resources, Mistaka is engaging nature and locals in the process of exceptional cheese making. “Mistaka is taking people back to their childhood and to their roots. I am trying to deliver a message through the artisanal handcrafted cheese by reviving the human relations to good food and unlocking the potential of the local resources that we have in this beautiful country.” This is the mission that drives Nisreen to learn more about cheese making and explore the potential of the priceless white gold produced by the Bedouins, a step that just might place Jordan on the cheese map of the world.
*Pictures courtesy of Mistaka