This Palestinian dairy shop has some of the hardest to find types of cheese, ice cream and ghee

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Two and a half years ago, Fida and Anan Zaka made the dream of a lifetime a reality by opening a dairy workshop. By chance they found a vacant lot in a Mississauga strip mall, which was blinded by a bustling Kawathara Road.

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Inside, there is an ice cream freezer where Zakas make fresh batches of “Arabic style” ice cream. Think your favorite scoop of vanilla ice cream, but with an impossible elasticity and stretch that rivals the pull of a champion cheese. The quality of the stretch comes from the use of two thickening agents: mastic, a plant resin, and sahlab, an orchid powder.

“This is how ice cream has been made for centuries, you rarely see it here,” Anan said.

At Nablus Creamery, in addition to ice cream scoops, they also sell ice cream logs, like a pistachio-covered Swiss roll.
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You will see it frequently in Beirut where it is called buzha, or in Turkey as dondurma in ancient street markets. In GTA, this is a rarity. “Ice cream isn’t really our main focus, but it allows us to connect with our community through nostalgia,” Anan said. Feather Nablus CreameryIn addition to ice cream scoops, they also sell pistachio-covered Swiss roll-like ice cream logs.

Fida and Anan are from neighboring towns on the West Bank – Genin and Nablus – and have met at the University of Damascus. Fida was studying agricultural engineering while Aanan was in food science and technology. The couple moved to Canada in 2008 to raise a family, and Anan worked in the quality and assurance department for the airline Catering Kitchens.

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“I inspected the suppliers, I tasted the menu. I have opened some of the first Halal certified catering kitchens in the country,” Anan said.

Fida, Wright, and Anan Zaka made a lifelong dream come true by opening a dairy shop, Nablus Creamery, two and a half years ago.

Mississauga is home to a large Palestinian population – in fact, Fida and Anan often refer to the area around their shop as “Little Palestine” in conversation. However, he noted, while there are a handful of Palestinian food places in Mississauga, he found that dairy products are not present. Especially cheese. “Of course we’ve had delicious food historically, but cheese is a cultural obsession,” Fida said.

Nabulsi cheese is a staple in Palestinian cooking. Fida presented small pieces of white brin cheese with fennel seeds. “We eat it with pita. We can fry it to make it soft. We can also add it to sweets,” she said.

Nabusli cheese is being made.  The milk solids separate from the water (whey).

The process of getting the right texture is complicated, Anan said. “Every cheese starts out the same. But then you have the culture, the insulation, the temperature and the humidity, the way you age it, the way you preserve it. It was an adventure, many of us in this journey.” It took years,” he said.

An acetic acid is added to the boiled milk to separate the milk particles. Then a crystalline teardrop-shaped mastic resin is added to give it elasticity and flavor. Once the milk solids are separated and dried, they are salted and thrown out to draw out the excess moisture. When it is cooled, the cheese has a firm, springy texture.

Ghee is also available at Nablus Creamery.  "We use whey left over from the cheese-making process to make our own ghee," said Anan Zaka.

At the store, Fida pan-fried some nabulsi cheese and becomes soft and elastic like yogurt in a poutine, to show how the texture changes.

Ghee is also made. “We use whey left over from the paneer-making process to make our ghee,” Anan said. It is also known as Samne Baladi, a traditional style of ghee that is infused with spices. When used in cooking, it blooms with the aroma of nuts and baking spices.

“It has this transportable quality,” Anan said. “People would come back and tell us that their kitchens were filled with memories of cooking back home.”

read all stories In this week’s Toronto food coverage,

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Correction – November 25, 2021: This article has been updated from a previous version that incorrectly stated that a liquid rennet is added to boiled milk to separate the milk particles.

Suresh Dos is a Toronto food writer and food tour guide. He is a freelance contributor to Star. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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