Georgian cuisine is unique in so many ways — for its love of walnuts, beans and plums; for its mastery of boat-shaped breads; for its status as one of the world’s most ancient producers of wine. Georgians also have a special cheese culture, and sulguni is at its melty, all-purpose heart. Sulguni is a semi-firm fat disk of brined cheese similar in look and texture to low-moisture mozzarella. It can be made of cow or buffalo’s milk, or a mix of the two, and can also be aged or intensely smoked.
You can taste that dry and smoky variation on the cheese platter at Georgian Bakery & Cafe alongside hunks of fresh young sulguni and two kinds of “guda,” a salty, pock-marked sheep’s milk mountain cheese (traditionally also aged in sheep’s skin) that’s so intense it’s an acquired taste. Fresh sulguni is a milder, more versatile cheese, with a faintly sour and salty tang from brining that has given it the nickname “pickle cheese,” and that also distinguishes it with an extra note of savor from sweeter mozzarella.
This is especially obvious in sulguni’s primary role as the cheese baked over the top of Georgian khachapuri breads like the Mingrelian-style round, where it’s baked over the top like a deeply cheesy pizza, or the boat-shaped Ajarian topped with an egg, which gets blended into the cheese tableside with a pat of butter for extra richness.
Sulguni is also the secret ooze inside the deep-fried cake of Georgian corn flour known as chvishtari, making me think it would make a fantastic alternative to cheddar in Southern grits, where two Georgias — the U.S. and Caucasus versions — could unite in perfect harmony.
— Craig LaBan