In the heart of the Caucasus there is a cheese-lover’s paradise- the Republic of Georgia always has some version of cheese bread on the table, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Waves of invaders, from Mongols and Persians to the Red Army, over the centuries have left their indelible mark on Georgia’s kitchen, but Georgian khatchapuri remains ubiquitous. So important is khachapuri to the national identity, the Kh Index was created. Like the Big Mac Index, the Kh Index measures inflation and currency devaluation by tracking the cost of its ingredients; dairy, yeast and eggs.
Khachapuri translates as khacha (cheese curds) and puri(bread).It’s an essential part of the Georgian table. It’s been compared to pizza in numerous articles but that does no justice to its many variations, which range from a calorie laden cheese bread to a butter and cheese filled boat, or to a pillow-like casserole more related to lasagna. “Khachapuri is undoubtedly the most iconic Georgia recipe,” according to Carla Capaldo, author of Tasting Georgia: A food and wine journey in the Caucasus. In her book she states,“Several regions have their own khachapuri, varying from the Imeretian to other styles with cheese on top or potato or hard boiled eggs inside.” While khachapuri is found throughout all of Georgia, its origins are from the western regions such as Imereti, Guria and Adjara. Below are some of the most delicious and common cheese-focused types.
Imeruli khachapuri originates in the Western region of Imereti and is the most common type of khachapuri.It’s a flat, circular pie with the cheese folded into the dough and flattened with a rolling pin. It’s sliced like pizza and served in single triangular pieces. This variation is quite popular throughout Georgia.
Acharuli Khachapuri, also known as Adjaran Khaachpuri, is justifiably the most famous (and most seen on Instagram) form of khachapuri.In the Black Sea region of Adjara, they form the dough into a boat shape and fill it with two types of cheese and bake it until the cheese is gooey and bubbling, and starts to crust. The crusted top is removed and a raw egg and pat of butter are placed on top before serving. The egg and butter are then cooked by mixing them into the hot cheese. It’s eaten by dipping the sides of the bread boat into the cholesterol inducing mix of eggs, cheese and butter.
Khabidzgina khachapuri comes from the mountainous region of Kazbegi and the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which is now controlled by Russian forces. It’s a sore subject for most Georgians, as two wars were fought for control over the region. Khabidzgina khachapuri is filled with both cheese and mashed potatoes. Like the Imeruli version, the cheese and potatoes are folded into the dough, which is then baked round and flat and served in smaller triangular pieces.
Svaneti is another mountainous region in the Caucasus that is home to the highest altitude inhabited village in Europe. Like the people, the Svanetian version of khachapuri is quite hearty and unique. It’s made with high fat cow’s milk cheese, green onions and eggs, which are folded into the dough. However, instead of one large pie, small, round pieces are taken from the dough and rolled out for individual servings that can be transported for mountainous journeys.
Achma khachapuri comes from another autonomous breakaway region, Abkhazia, which is also under the control of Russian forces. Most Georgians wax poetic about the region’s distinctive cuisine, which is quite spicy and aromatic. Long arguments can break out at the table over what counts as authentic adjika. Like its cuisine, its khachapuri marches to the beat of another drummer. Instead of being a round, flat, cheese pie, Achma is more akin to cheesy lasagna with layers of pastry, cheese and butter. Many cooks in Georgia use leftover khinkali dough for the pastry.
From the subtropical region of Samegrelo, Megruli Khachapuri is prepared in the same way as Imeruli khachapuri, but extra layers of cheese are added to the top of the pie before baking.
Guruli Ghvezeli is a khachapuri made in the western region of Guria, a lush, subtropical region famous for tea and hazelnuts, and one of the wildest versions of football in the world. The cheese and eggs are not folded into the dough as with other versions, instead, the dough is rolled out into a circle, the filling is placed on one side and the dough is folded over top and is then glazed with egg and baked in a half moon or crescent moon shape. At Christmas time, a coin or fruit stone is placed inside. The person who gets the special piece wins luck.
The two main kinds of cheese that are used in Georgian khachapuri are the sour Imertian white cow’s milk cheese and sulguni, a stringy brine cheese that is often compared to mozzarella. These cheeses are extremely difficult to find outside of the region, and therefore substitutes are used in their place. The most common are feta and cow’s milk mozzarella. Carla Capaldo suggests using equal amounts of cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella and cottage cheese. Olia Hercules has added a recipe for homemade sulguni in her gorgeous book Kaukasis: A culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan & beyond.The most important thing is that the cheeses are fresh and made from raw, unpasteurized milk. The most practical and easy to use recipes come from Georgian native and chef Tito Tuskadze, the owner of Little Georgia in London and author of Supra: A feast of Georgian cooking. There are a number of other savory pies that are filled with ingredients ranging from beef and cheese, wild greens and the delicious lobiani, which is bean filled. The culinary traditions of Georgia are diverse, and yet khachapuri, even with its many variations, is a food that unites everyone at the table.