Eight minutes. That was all the time I had before I was scheduled to meet my friend in Sunnyside for a nearby foodie event. The choice: I could simply neutralize this slice of time and wait outside the frenetic smack-in-the-middle-of-Queens-Boulevard subway entrance savoring the malodorous traffic fumes, or I could prowl around. But what could I ferret out in eight minutes?
Twenty seconds and half a block later I found Superior Market/Beer World. The store was bursting with craft beers from around the world — but that’s not the kind of thing I usually write about on these pages. A quick glance around the place and I realized I was on familiar Russian turf: some prepared foods, fresh baked goods, the usual suspects, and a lot of non-Russian products as well to satisfy their mixed clientele. With that cursory inspection and only a few minutes to spare, I found nothing special to tell you about, so I was about to leave empty handed. But something I had never seen before caught my eye as I passed the refrigerator case on my way to the door.
The vacuum packed pouch revealed what looked a bit like a bundle of short thin ropes about 4 inches in length. I picked my way through the Cyrillic text on the label. The first line was easy: СЫР – cheese. The second (hyphenated) line began with Чечил. I sounded it out: Chechil. I had no idea. Then the next word. I struggled with the Russian script: you think you’re seeing “cnazemmu” but what looks like a “c” sounds like “s”, what looks like an “n” is a “p”, “z” is “g”, “m” is “t” and that “u” is actually a lower case version of the letter that looks like a backwards N, so it must be – s, p, a, g, e, t, t, i? Really? But yes, that’s the second part of that line – spaghetti. (Well, it did look like spaghetti in sort of a dwarfed, tannish way.)
Hurriedly, I bought a pack and plunged into my research as soon as I returned home. I pulled off a string; it came apart in shreds. Very smoky. Certainly salty. Almost aged mozzarella-ish but much drier. Rather chewy. Delicious. I wondered if it would melt: I peeled off another strip. Nope. Not in the microwave, at least. After only a couple of seconds in the belly of that magnetron beast, it became even drier and oddly bubbly in a freakish sort of way but nothing I would call melted. (Should have tried a more conventional approach. Well, there’s always next time.)
I hit the interwebs and discovered that I was enjoying Smoked Chechil Beer Snack. (The third line on the label means smoked.) Ah — this Russian cheese is destined to be savored with beer, the featured product of the eponymous Beer World. Its roots are in Armenia but it’s popular throughout Central Asia and Russia. Larger hunks of this cow’s milk pasta filata cheese (which is why it reminded me of mozzarella) are typically braided into a figure 8, this being a small snippet from one of those skeins.
So this Russian string cheese is described as “spaghetti” which is the diminutive plural of spago in Italian which means “string”.
And that ties it all together.
Found at Superior Market/Beer World
40-08 Queens Blvd.
Long Island City, NY