Behind the Recipe: Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

Haunted by the memory of crusty, pizzalike bread encasing velvety cheese, one of our food editors set out to create her own version of this traditional Georgian recipe.
georgian cheese bread

I learned how to make khachapuri, a pizza-like, cheese-filled bread, when I was traveling in the Republic of Georgia. My tour was phenomenal: Every place I stopped, I would stay with a family who would teach me several traditional recipes. I was even out there in the mountains, milking cows by hand and making cheese from the milk— which was often still warm from the milking. You encounter this cheese bread all over Georgia, in restaurants and in homes, and everyone makes it a little differently. There’s one area by the Black Sea coast called Adzharia, where they shape the bread like a boat, leaving the cheese exposed in the middle; before it’s served, butter and egg yolk are stirred in—just in case it’s not rich enough. The kind I learned to make encloses the cheese in the dough completely. You put a ball of cheese in the middle of the dough and wrap the dough around it, then flatten it and pat it out. Before baking it, you score it with a knife so that some of the cheese oozes out—that’s part of what makes it look so fabulous when you bring it to the table.

There are several challenges in developing recipes. One is that after you make something again and again, you start to question your memory; are you remembering the original taste, or are you remembering what you tasted last week? For this reason, I called on our chief research editor, Marisa Robertson-Textor. She has traveled extensively in the region, so I trusted that her memory of this bread was deeper than mine. For example, the crust that I started out with was exactly what I had learned in Georgia: very much like a pizza dough, bready and crisp. But the version of khachapuri that Marisa remembered was chewy, something I had also tasted in Georgia. I know some Georgians add an egg to their dough, so I did as well; Marisa and I both thought the resulting chewiness of the crust was right-on.

Another problem is that you might not always find exactly the product you need to make something—in this case, it was the sulguni, the cheese stuffed inside the bread. I learned how to make sulguni while I was in Georgia; it’s a cooked cheese that strings like mozzarella but has a sharp saltiness. There’s nothing in the States that’s exactly like it. The first combination I tried was a mixture of Monterey Jack, for its yellow, smooth saltiness, and mozzarella, for its string; but the Monterey Jack just wasn’t right. I moved on to mozzarella by itself, but it didn’t have enough bite to it. With that in mind, I even tried Muenster, but that didn’t work either. Then Marisa suggested something like a Havarti, a salty Danish cow’s milk cheese. Havarti by itself separated and went greasy without melting all the way, but the flavor made me think I was on the right track. I ended up mixing Havarti and mozzarella. I loved it, but more importantly, it struck a note for Marisa; she had that Eureka moment that I was looking for.

You don’t have to travel abroad to try this chewy, cheese-stuffed bread.

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