Making Cheese In The Land Of The Bible: Add Myrrh And A Leap Of Faith : The Salt Spring in the West Bank means Bedouin herders' ewes and nanny goats are full of milk — and cheese making abounds. The traditional method relies on a few simple ingredients and a long cultural memory.

Making Cheese In The Land Of The Bible: Add Myrrh And A Leap Of Faith

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As we continue to cover the aftermath of the Israeli election, our correspondent there took a break to appreciate one of the region's small pleasures. Springtime in the West Bank is the best season for fresh goat cheese. NPR's Emily Harris wanted to preserve it for the entire year and she found out this requires adding a bit of myrrh.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Yes, myrrh - the same aromatic resin one of the three kings gave baby Jesus in the Bible. But first, you need some cheese. I got mine from a 16-year-old Bedouin boy in the West Bank. He rode a donkey carrying plastic buckets full of damp squares of salty cheese. Through my interpreter I ask if I can buy some and what you do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) You put salt on it for two days then boil it.

HARRIS: I can't just eat it? I'm not sure I want to buy it if I can't just eat it.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) You can, you can.

HARRIS: You can just eat it, but the traditional treatment is boiling the cheese with spices. We stop in a small shop in Jericho.

What are the cheese spices you've got?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: The grocer says I need myrrh and mahlab. The myrrh comes in the form of small yellow crystals. Mahlab looks like teeny, tiny almonds. The grocer tells me how to cook the cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) You bring the cheese, which you have sliced in half. You prepare in a pot - water with salt. You boil it once. You take the cheese, you drop it in the water. You boil it once with the cheese.

HARRIS: The spices get ground, wrapped in cloth and go in with the cheese. I don't really cook, but it sounds like I can do this. Water, salt, grind the spices with a mortar and pestle.

Oh, those spices really smell good now. Kind of piney, woody. Kind of, maybe a little citrusy? Four minutes of boiling and it looks like the cheese is dissolving. OK, if I thought this was slimy before, it is really slimy now.

I swear, a third of the cheese has melted into the water. But once the chunks that survive have cooled, I try one.

I get it. It's got a real skin on the outside now.


HARRIS: Hey, guys.

My taste testers are home.


HARRIS: I've been cooking cheese.


HARRIS: It looks pretty good because I've put it on a fancy plate, added olives and fresh bread.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's really good. A bit salty. But it's really good.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's good. It's kind of squeaky.

HARRIS: (Laughter). Salty and squeaky?

Squeaky and salty. Though it can keep for a year, this batch doesn't last long. Emily Harris, NPR News.

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