Ambarees also known as Serdalli or Labnet Al Jarra, is a Lebanese dairy delicacy with a long history that is produced in the Bekaa Valley and Chouf Mountains.
Nowadays, its traditional production process is at risk of being lost. A lack of production knowhow within the general public and access to earthernware jars which give ambarees its authentic flavor have made this cherished dairy product a rare treat.
We spoke with professionals and producers to get a closer look at the traditional production methods, heritage and nutritional value of this delicious forgotten treasure of Lebanese food heritage.
On July 16, 17 and 23, the Food Heritage Foundation (FHF) delivered three training sessions and workshops on Sirdeleh and soft goat cheese making in Deir al Qamar. These sessions were commissioned by the Secours Islamique France (SIF) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Chouf Biosphere Reserve. FHF supports the SIF objectives in enhancing the preservation of authentic food in the Chouf region.
Doing so, Eng. Nadim Rawda began the first session with a general introduction workshop in dairy products and white cheese making. Local farmers, cooperatives and cheese makers where taught the extensive knowledge of Baladi Cheese making with a focus on the production of goat soft cheeses flavored with sun-dried ingredients such as herbs and tomatoes.
On the second day, a participatory workshop facilitated by Eng. Mabelle Chedid and Mrs. Marwa Soubra gathered Sirdeleh producers from the Chouf area and aimed at identifying the Sirdeleh production method while pointing out the challenges that the producers face at different levels of the production process. The participants were motivated to share their experience and talk about challenges which they are facing mainly related to the lack of good quality clay jars and lack of marketing. The negative aspects of using plastic jars were addressed in the Food Safety session that was followed by a presentation on Occupational Health.
In an attempt to promote and preserve the traditional method of Sirdeleh making, SIF will distribute to the participants, later this summer, clay jars produced by a local potter.
Finally on the third day of training, the basic training on Sirdeleh making was delivered: participants learned how to prepare the clay jar prior to use and how to safely fill in the jar with goat milk. At the end of the training they all tasted freshly made Sirdeleh cheese prepared by a local farmer from Baaqlin.
Sirdaleh is a climate-smart product which makes use of the seasonal goat milk production and is preserved for use during winter when goat milk is not available. Similarly to Ambarees, Sirdeleh is made exclusively with raw goat milk. During the production process, Sirdeleh cheese is removed from the vessel and used to make kishk, but the bulk of the production is left to ferment in the jar to gain its acidic taste and conserved in glass jars covered with olive oil.
The preservation and documentation of the Sirdeleh cheese by passing on traditional production methods and expertise is a major concern to FHF who has previously teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Zahle and the Bekaa (CCIAZ ) to survey producers of Ambarees, another iconic dairy product prepared with raw goat milk, and which is facing similar threats such as lack of good clay jars and absence of marketing. The collaboration between FHF and CCIAZ also included a workshop and distribution of jars.
The Daily Star visits Ambarees producers in the West Bekaa and publishes this beautiful article featuring the Food Heritage Foundation’s initiative to revive Ambarees production and interviews with Mabelle Chedid president of the foundation and Amal Ghorayeb dairy producer from darb el karam Saghbine – West Bekaa.
Labneh (strained yogurt) is a daily food item in the Lebanese diet, cherished by everyone and consumed mainly in sandwiches for breakfast. Labneh comes in various tastes and flavors depending on the method of processing and the source of milk; it can be sweet or sour.
Ambarees, also known as Serdalli ( also pronounced Sirdeleh) or Labnet al Jarra, is a traditional dairy product of the Bekaa Valley and the Chouf area where baladi (local) goats are the main grazing animals. Ambarees consists of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars; It develops into a Labneh with a creamy texture and an acidic flavor. The word “Sirdeleh” actually refers to the earthenware jar in which the dairy product is prepared.
This dairy delicacy is made from raw goat milk, and to a lesser extent from cow or sheep milk, which is poured at room temperature in earthenware containers with a coarse salt, closed, and left for a week to ferment. At this stage, a curd and a liquid forms, the latter being drained from a small hole at the bottom of the jar. The process of adding raw milk, coarse salt, fermenting and draining is repeated until the jar is full. It is then sealed and left to ferment until it reaches the right acidity.
Ambarees is a result of an old and wise traditional knowledge of food and food-ways, a preservation technique that has proven successful over the centuries. The high acidity and salt concentration of this food product, along with a proper handling by food producers, makes it totally safe to eat.
Ambarees is produced from late March until end of September, when goat milk is abundant, and the water content of the pastures becomes low. Ambarees ishighly dense in milk solids, can be preserved for a whole year, and makes for a perfect meal in winter days, often spread on a piece of Saj or Markouk bread, and heated over a wooden stove.
“Ambarees”, also known as “Sirdeleh” or “Labnet al Jarra”, is a traditional dairy product of the Bekaa Valley consisting of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars that develops into a sour labneh. Making Ambarees has become a rare practice in remote areas of rural Lebanon, and the Ambarees labneh has become a sought after product.
The Food Heritage Foundation together with the Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture of Zahle and the Bekaa, through the Lactimed project are seeking to revive and promote the tradition of making Ambarees by documenting the production process of this dairy product and identifying jar producers.
During the workshop that was organized last December and which gathered Ambarees producers from all over the Bekaa region, participants shared their methods of producing Ambarees and a unified procedure was developed. A session on safe production and handling was delivered by the Food Heritage Foundation public health specialists.
Subsequently, a brochure was prepared and included technical and nutritional information on this traditional product.
In order to sustain this production, jars of 20L capacity were purchased from an identified potter and distributed to Ambarees producers from the Bekaa. More activities related to the safety of this product will follow during this coming season.
Under the Lactimed project, the Food Heritage Foundation (FHF) and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture of Zahle & the Bekaa (CCIAZ) initiated their collaboration on preserving a typical dairy product of the region called “Ambarees“. The idea of this cluster pilot project is to identify, through a survey, Ambarees producers in the Bekaa and gather information on the production process of this traditional dairy product and try to standardize it to enhance its marketing potentials and preserve its production.
The documentation of Ambarees making was collected through a workshop that was hosted by CCIAZ in its offices in Zahle on December 19, 2015 and was organized by FHF. Twelve Ambarees producers from various parts of the Bekaa attended the workshop and participated in the working sessions that were organized; they shared their know-how with each others and described their process of Ambarees production then identified the main challenges that they are facing.
The participatory session was then followed by a brief session on food safety practices in Ambarees production focusing on how to abide by food safety standards while preserving the traditional aspect of this product.
The next phase of this project is to identify Ambarees earthenware producers and provide the dairy producers with tested earthenware jars to in order to increase their production. A brochure aiming at promoting this traditional product will also be prepared and distributed in relevant events.
We like to nickname her the “Sirdele” lady. A sirdele producer for more than 20 years, Abla never thought that one day she would become a dairy producer! Her husband’s family had been raising and herding goats for generations and once part of the family, she got down to business and excelled in it.
Sirdele in Shouf, a type of labne produced in clay jars, is the result of the fermentation of goat milk with coarse salt over a period of few months. It is also called Ambarees in the Bekaa Valley.
In 2006, Abla went to Torino to take part in the 2nd Terra Madre event by Slowfood International and was hailed for her traditional labne product.
With Abla, you will learn how Sirdele is produced after coming back from a hike with her husband and his goats!
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