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.
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.
Traditional animal of the Mediterranean, the goat is raised in most countries of the region, for its production of milk that is almost entirely transformed, in a traditional way, to cheese and other dairy products.
[quote] Nutrition Corner: For all those with “sensitive stomachs” out there, Goat’s milk might be the solution for you! With a lower content of lactose and a structure close to that of breastmilk, Goat’s milk is usually easier to digest than Cow’s milk. Plus it has more calcium, potassium and Vitamin A![/quote]
Goat farming is widespread in the marginal areas of Lebanon; the adopted breeding system is the extensive pastoral system, centuries old, relying on pastures as its main source of feed. The local goat population consists mainly of the indigenous breed of Baladi goat characterized by its rusticity and ability to value the limited resources of the tough land that no other ruminants can reach.
The consumption of goat milk is valued on the national level, especially in the regions that exhibit goat farming. In 2010, goat milk production reached 32 million tons. Goat dairy products are consumed as cheese, laban, labneh, ayran and other more typical products characterized by their production and conservation techniques like Kishk, Ambarees labneh and Darfieh cheese. While Ambarees, traditionally produced in the Bekaa Valley, consists of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars, Darfieh cheese, a specialty of North Lebanon, is fermented in a cow skin prepared in advance particularly to make this cheese.
Goat milk production is seasonal, and preservation methods of caprine dairy products vary: goat labneh and Ambarees are usually shaped into small balls and conserved in glass jars with olive oil, Ambarees can also be frozen for later use, Darfieh cheese is conserved in olive oil as well, baladi goat cheese is preserved in brine (salty water), and kishk is well-maintained as powder to be used in soup and other recipes.
A vital part of Lebanese culinary heritage, labneh is basically the by-product of yogurt straining, where yogurt is placed overnight in a cheese cloth bag, and left to drain its “water”, to form a kind of dense, spreadable cream, which is often adorned with extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by a mix of vegetables mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and olives and eaten with pita bread. Labneh can be made of cow, sheep or goat yogurt.
Goat labneh is mostly consumed in rural areas. With a stronger and sour taste, goat labne is highly appreciated by villagers and lebanese who have a strong link to rural areas. Its dense consistency makes it easier for goat labne producers to mold it into small balls and conserve it for the winter season, when goat milk is scarce.
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