Directly across the Mediterranean Sea from the birthplace of feta cheese, Greece, is the historic Egyptian coastal city of Damietta. Centuries ago, another salty white cheese was born here, known by another spelling of its native city's name, Domiati. Using milk primarily from cows or buffaloes, this popular Egyptian cheese is made salty and slightly pickled with the addition of salt even before cheese-making cultures are added.
The city of Domiati holds the primary naming rights to the country's prized white cheese, but other names are commonly used as well. Some call it gebnah baida, or "white cheese." Gebnah tariyah is another popular name, meaning "soft cheese." Its use is widespread, not just throughout Egypt but all through the Arabic nations of the Middle East.
The process of making Domiati cheese is at least 2,300 years old. Salt is added to pasteurized cow or buffalo milk at precise measurements depending on the sharpness desired — between five percent and 14 percent by volume. After saturated with salt at about 175°F (about 80°C), this heated and salted milk batch is mixed into two parts unsalted milk. Only then does the cook add the bacterial starter, which is a diverse combination of bacterial agents that act in warm temperatures to form the final cheese product.
The coagulated Domiati cheese that starts to form at the top of the salted milk is then scooped into molds lined with cheese cloth. Once a mold is filled, the cloth is fully wrapped around the cheese, which is placed into a vise-like press for a long period of drainage and drying at an elevated room temperature of about 100°F (about 38°C). Sometimes, the molds will be square or rectangular; other times, they will be in a circle or oval shape.
Various types of Domiati cheese is made by either altering the type of milk or the amount of salt. Full-, half- and quarter-cream cheese is had by using eight percent, four percent or two percent milk, respectively. The amount of salt that is added might even vary by the season in which it is added. In summer, as much as 14 percent salt to milk could be added by volume. In winter, as little as five percent salt might be adequate. In the fall and spring, a middle ground around seven percent salt is the norm. Another non-refrigerated Egyptian white cheese adds even less salt and has longer drying times.