The Daily Spud

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The Incredible Spreadable

It was, to coin a phrase, la jam de la jam.

In fact, I could get all biblical about it and accuse Nidal Rayess of having saved the best jam ’til last, but the truth is I am just thankful for what I can honestly say was a higher jam experience.

We visited Nidal’s dairy in Jdita a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Taste Lebanon tour, where, among other things, they make labneh (or strained yoghurt) and halloumi cheese from their own cow’s and goat’s milk, as well as making a range of preserves.

Nidal Rayess

Nidal Rayess: one man and his cheese

As we toured the small dairy and watched a batch of halloumi in the making, we learned that Nidal’s grandfather was the first person to make this particular kind of cheese in Lebanon, having learned the process during World War 1. They still make it here using traditional methods, while a ricotta-like cheese is made from the whey that’s left over.

Rayess Halloumi

Cooking, folding, pressing and branding halloumi cheese at the Rayess Dairy

There were many satisfied nods of approval as we proceeded to sample a range of their dairy goodies. In a country that loves its labneh, this was some of the best we had tasted, and the fresh halloumi had us returning for seconds, thirds and more. It didn’t come as a great surprise to hear that products from this dairy feature on the royal Jordanian family’s shopping list. If I lived anywhere even remotely nearby, I’d be filling my basket too.

Rayess ricotta

Making and branding the blocks of pressed ricotta-like cheese

However, it was only after our mini dairy feast that Nidal produced, first, a jar of mulberry jam, and then a jar of apricot. The mulberry was magnificent, but the apricot, with its glorious perfume of sun-ripened fruit, and always my most favourite of jams, was perfection.

When I was growing up, the jar of apricot jam that resided in the larder was not what we kids got on our toast, but was reserved by my mother for almond slices or sponge cake fillings. It was right up there with Rose’s lime marmalade as a rare and lovely treat. If there was ever an occasion for a jam-induced swoon, this apricot jam of Nidal’s was it.

I was still in a state of jam nirvana when Nidal said “I’ll tell you the secret.” That, needless to remark, focused everyone’s attention. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know how this jar of sunshine had come to be?

And the secret to the jam wasn’t a sprinkling of fairy dust (which I would have believed), but a level of effort, care and attention that was humbling. The fruit in the jam was clearly exceptional, but what made it even more so was that it was only the half of each apricot that had faced outward towards the sun that was used in its making.

Few people, I imagined, would go to such trouble for their preserves. I am just glad that somebody in the world does, and that I have a jar of such jam to prove it.

Apricot jam and toast

Bringing a little bit of heaven back home: toasted Irish soda bread and Lebanese apricot jam

10 Comments

  1. That cheese looks so good. And the apricot jam… wish I had some for breakfast!

  2. Daily Spud

    Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Luckily I was able to bring back both some cheese and some jam, Yuri – savouring them for however long they last :)

  3. The apricot (and mulberry) jams were truly incredible! Nearly finished the first jar (the fam has been digging in too). Was so lovely to have you as a guest on the tour Aoife. Thanks for making the trip! xx

  4. So it would be correct to say that the apricot jam is sun-kissed in the truest sense of the phrase? Nirvana indeed! It’s Shangri-jam, Jamadu, Jamtopia… So can you spare a jar for an apricot-starved friend in Asia? As much as I’d love to have it with toasted Irish bread, as suggested, I could really go for a dollop or two in some labneh. But I will settle for a block of halloumi – will send you mailing info shortly… ;-)

  5. Wow, sounds incredible, the trip, which I have to get caught up on and the jam of course. Aside from the special care, do you think they had a different variety of apricots or let them ripen longer than usual so they had more sugar?

  6. Daily Spud

    Monday, May 23, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Bethany: so loved being on the tour and so, so glad I made the trip – will be savouring my apricot jam as a treat for a while to come :)

    Tangled Noodle: would *love* to share some of my shangri-jam with you – and I can tell you that I did indeed sample a dollop of the jam with some of Nidal’s super creamy fresh labneh and it was to die for

    OysterCulture: you know, I’m not sure about the variety of apricot, though the climate is certainly such that they would get a lot of sunshine (on that sun-facing side :) ) and I expect that they’re picked at optimum ripeness

  7. It looks like you’ve been having some dairy adventures of your own. I can imagine that was some tour! That jam with the cheese sounds like a match made in foodie heaven.

  8. Daily Spud

    Monday, May 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Absolutely, Lori! Needless to remark, you would have loved it :)

  9. I’ve been there :-) Good photos – brings back lots of memories! I like their shop, I remember it had a large old-fashioned cash-register, like the one on Open All Hours lol.

    Nidal is a fascinating guy – studied cheese in Leeds!

  10. Daily Spud

    Friday, June 3, 2011 at 2:57 am

    Hey there Paul – yes, I remember the old-fashioned cash register – it’s still there! Interesting to hear Nidal had studied cheese in Leeds, didn’t recall hearing that.

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