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.

A Megrelian-style khachapuri topped with sulguni cheese at Georgian Bakery & Cafe in Northeast Philadelphia.
Craig LaBan
A Megrelian-style khachapuri topped with sulguni cheese at Georgian Bakery & Cafe in Northeast Philadelphia.

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

Sulguni costs $9.99 a pound in the retail market at Georgian Bakery & Cafe (11749 Bustleton Ave.). Also available in Russian supermarkets such as Bell’s Market (8330 Bustleton Ave.), Net Cost (11701 Bustleton Ave.), and Petrovsky Market (9808 Bustleton Ave.)