Oh, churchkhela. A resounding local favourite, this sweet snack is a bit misunderstood among travellers. Nicknamed ‘Georgian Snickers’, it’s made from nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts) that are strung together and dipped into a thick, sugary roux made from flour and fruit pulp, usually grapes. Churchkhela are odd-looking to start with; but once the sugar starts to crystallise on the outside it can end up looking like mold (don’t worry, it’s not!). I guess this puts a lot of people off.
I’ve had the occasional churchkhela that tastes as bad as it looks (i.e. like candle wax); but believe me, nothing beats a fresh, well-made one.
We got a rare chance to see churchkhela being made during our recent day trip in Imereti. We dropped into Gorduli (გორდული), a family run production centre, to grab a quick snack, and we came away with a wonderful tour of the property and several bags full of churchkela, dried fruit and tea! It was a wonderful experience and we have a very generous host to thank. He not only demonstrated the final stages of the process for us, but also let us have a go ourselves – and sample the ingredients.
It goes without saying that Gorduli’s are some of the freshest, tastiest churchkhela we’ve tried so far.
The process starts by removing the skins from fresh hazelnuts and threading them onto a piece of kitchen string using a needle. We missed this part, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. The string is knotted at the bottom to keep the nuts from slipping off; at the top, there’s a loop which vendors use to hang the finished product (Georgia’s markets are full of dangling churchkhela). By the end of this process the churchkhela will hold together by itself, and it’s etiquette to pull out the entire length of string before you start eating it.
Meanwhile, a big pot of roux is prepared over an open fire. Gorduli produces a variety of different flavour combinations, and this particular recipe uses feijoa instead of grapes, which gives the churchkhela a distinctive taste and colour. We got to try the roux straight from the pot.
After being attached to this hooked instrument, a set of six strings are lowered into the pot.
After a quick smush to coat all the nuts, the churchkhela are pulled out and hung up. They are left outside for a period to dry out and harden.
I’ve never seen so many churchkhela in one place. Still, what we saw in May is nothing compared to what Gorduli looks like in late summer, after the fruit harvest. Check out their Facebook page for more pictures.
Don’t be fooled by its strange appearance or intimidated by the string inside – churchkhela is a must-try when in Georgia! If you want to see it being made, you can visit the Gorduli farm, which is located outside of Kutaisi on the way to Okatse Canyon.