Aged for at least 120 days, Roumi cheese, especially melted, leaves lingering traces in the room that are slow to dissipate.
By Sarah Khanna
There was a smell coming from the convenient counter-top oven that my mother would use for quick fixes: baking in small quantities, roasting for two and melting cheese. Edging closer to the kitchen, that overpowering scent would send me running away again, hibernating in my room for as long as need be.
Aged for at least 120 days, Roumi cheese, especially melted, leaves lingering traces in the room that are slow to dissipate. I could not stand it as a child, along with any other cheese that remotely smelled of anything other than plastic. As my taste buds developed and my desire to eat adventurously kicked in, I started trying cheeses that were imported, most milder than the strong slap-in-your-face flavor Roumi cheese brings.
Roumi was special. You either loved it or hated it, embraced it as a child or banished it to the pits of hell. I was a hater.
Moving to Malaysia, I started appreciating cheese for what it was and not as something the rest of Egypt came close to worshiping. With its elevated Malaysian prices for its miniature-sized quantities, cheese became a thing to look forward to. This was when it happened. I missed Egypt so much that I started craving stinky, salty Roumi cheese – aged, crumbling and studded with black peppercorns.
A cross between Parmesan and Mozzarella, it dawned on me that I had underestimated this cheese and could use it in a variety of dishes, both cold and hot, for breakfast and for dinner. This was a versatile friend to have around, especially that it is sold in its different stages of aging making it easier for you to pick a complementary Roumi to your meal. After experimenting with it for breakfast and in pastas, I was ready to take the big leap and eat it the way most Egyptians do – with a big cup of black tea with milk and copious amounts of sugar and wedged, melted or not, between a thick pocket of whole wheat pita bread, also known as Egyptian baladi bread. I apologize to both my mother and husband for not listening to you earlier. The stink is beautiful and I shall hold Roumi in high regard from now on.
Originally Published: February 6, 2012