Ackawi cheese is a soft Middle Eastern cow's milk cheese which is widely popular across most of the Levant. There are a number of ways to serve ackawi cheese, ranging from breading it and frying it to eating it straight as a snack, and it is a common offering in Middle Eastern markets. Outside of the Middle East, it can be a bit challenging to find ackawi cheese, and it is difficult to find a good stand-in. Some cooks use mozzarella, although this cheese has a slightly different profile from traditional ackawi.
This cheese has a soft, tender texture, and a very mild, slightly salt flavor. The flavor is created by brining, the method which has traditionally been used to keep the cheese from spoiling. Unlike heavily brined cheeses such as feta, ackawi cheese tends to be less salty, thanks to a more mild brine, and it has a very smooth texture with a hint of creaminess.
One common use for ackawi is as a breakfast cheese, wrapped in bread or served with fruit. It is also viewed as an all-purpose table cheese, frequently on offer at lunch and dinner, as well. Some people also enjoy taking ackawi on picnics, typically eating it with soft flatbread, and it can be included in cooked dishes, although it does not melt down very well. The resistance to melting makes ackawi an excellent choice as a fried cheese, because it will hold its shape rather than breaking down during the frying process.
This cheese is believed to be native to Lebanon and Syria, where it is still widely eaten. In addition, it is very common in Israel and among the Palestinian community, illustrating the culinary and cultural exchange between many Middle Eastern nations. The cheese is in fact named for an Israeli port city, perhaps referencing a common point of export.
A special variation of ackawai cheese known as naboulsi is made by boiling the cheese in a mixture of spices, creating a heavily seasoned cheese. Naboulsi is also packed in brine after being finished, and it is a very popular treat in Lebanon. This type of ackawi cheese is best eaten straight with a mild bread, allowing the flavors of the spices to come through clearly.