The cooking of the Ottomans was
lavish, bountiful and preparation methods were fastidious. It became one of the
recognised cuisines of the world for many good reasons. Firstly, it depended on
the freshest ingredients and these were mostly home-grown but sometimes
imported. Secondly, the Ottomans passed on to modern Turks a passion for good
eating and sumptuous foods. Most of the Ottoman sultans ate, and served to their
guests and dignitaries, gargantuan meals with many courses. One could say there
was a fine line here between gourmet and gourmand but food and its presentation
were unquestionably an integral part of Ottoman hospitality. The ruling classes
enjoyed an excessively bon vivant lifestyle, perilously close to decadent. Of
course, feeding the vast Ottoman armies and their minions on the move required
enormous quantities of food.
Today in Turkey, a meal is not merely for sustenance; it is
an occasion to savour every morsel and guests and hosts alike observe venerable
social conventions. Taking a glass of Turkish tea or a strong Turkish coffee
dictates delightful social rituals and correct manners.
Finally, the Ottoman diet was a healthy one and today the
Mediterranean cuisine is little changed, based on pulses, meat or fish, lashings
of vegetables, fresh salads and, of course, fruit and cheeses. It is not a
misnomer to call olive oil the nectar of the gods and this is used in cooking
and to dress salads. Turkey also makes delicious wines, which are the ideal
companion to many of our cheeses.
CHEESE IN TURKISH CULTURE
For all the new technology and
interest in cheese culture, Turkish cheeses are practically
unknown. Foreigners are surprised when they learn the extent
of cheese production in Turkey and local Turks are sometimes
unaware of the many varieties produced outside their
immediate area. Many cookbooks regard Ottoman cuisine as one
of the world's classics, but cheese gets but a passing
The reason for this is because the majority of local cheeses
are still made on farms or by nomadic peoples. They are
often so fresh that they don't travel well and few rural
cheese makers and market traders are familiar with the
weighty volumes of Euro-food rules. Small enterprises cannot
compete with global food-producing conglomerates. Certainly
Turkey has cheese factories and excellent commercially made
cheeses in vacuum packs. These are usually more expensive
than the traditional farm-produced cheeses.
It is easy to believe that Turks eat only the white cheese,
or beyaz peynir, similar to Greek Feta cheese. But this is a
misnomer, now that Feta is officially recognised as a
Hellenic domain cheese.
CHEESE FOR BREAKFAST
Few cultures feature cheese as a breakfast food so
spectacularly as Turkey. Indeed, it is the nucleus of a
typical breakfast. When a Turk wakes up, he wants breakfast
- even if it is well after noon. Visitors find cheese,
olives, cucumbers and eggs laid out on the breakfast table.
With butter, honey, crusty bread and freshly-brewed Turkish
tea, this is the way a Turk begins his day. If he rises
early enough, then a second breakfast may well fill the
place of a mid-morning snack or "elevenses."
Many of our cheeses go well with olives and the symmetry
between the two is undeniable. However, they don't ALL taste
nice or go well with each other. When they do, it is a
marriage made in Eden. Matching up taste nuances is a tricky
business. You must experiment and fine-tune both your sense
of smell and taste buds to be a skilful matchmaker.
One of the wonderful things about Turkey is that you can
taste so many food items before buying, particularly in
rural markets. Forget those look-but-don't-touch olive
trolleys in western supermarkets. Any Turkish olive worth
its lineage begs to be sampled. You can eat as many as you
want before deciding. Even big supermarkets encourage this
and provide a spittoon to deposit the stones.
No Turk would dream of purchasing olives without trying out
several varieties, discussing, debating or arguing over
their different qualities. Are they too dry? Too acid or too
salty? Does the stone drop away cleanly?
Like cheese, olives are primarily a breakfast food, but are
also healthy enough to be eaten throughout the day.
These are some of the terms you will see associated with
cheese, as you travel around Turkey. We explain some of them
here to help you appreciate regional differences and some of
: This is the container that cheeses are stored in when
they are kept and preserved underground. You may also hear
this word as cibin, cimlekli or comlekli, but they all mean
the same - an earthenware container.
: This is a type of salad, Arabic in origin, it is made
using the hot, red-coloured cheese, Sürk.
: This is a curd cheese made by boiling up the whey
from the first separation of the milk into curds and whey.
Usually eaten very fresh or with a little salt added, it can
be used for cooking.
: Means skin or leather. Some cheeses used animal
skins, like goat or cow, with the hair on, to mature cheeses
in tulums. You will still find some cheeses matured this way
or have the name deri tulum attached to a specific cheese.
But, in general, this method of maturing cheese is less seen
nowadays. Polythene sacks are more usual.
: Cheese that pulls away in strips and strings, this
means literally 'tongue' cheese.
: This is a freshly-made Kaşar cheese which is a
distinctive yellow colour and usually forms a rind.
: A cheese with mold or rind.
: A soft curd cheese, similar to the Italian riccotta,
usually eaten very fresh. It is made all over Turkey from
the remaining whey of numerous regional cheeses. It is
prized in cooking, specially for dishes like borek, (a type
of Turkish pastry), or gozleme/katmer (folded pancakes).
: Dairy farm or cheesery, usually small and
uncommercialised. Orme Cheese literally, knitted or braided,
cheese, found in eastern Turkey around Kars, Erzurum and
This is cheese that has been pickled in brine.
A fiery, hot cheese, red in colour, which is Arabic in
origin. Found mostly in the Hatay region of Turkey.
Testi means a jug or pitcher, usually earthenware, and this
is used to keep cheeses made in the spring in cool places,
like an underground cistern or larder, until they can be
consumed in winter.
The Mediterranean and Aegean
coastal regions have Turkey's mildest climate with hot
summers and temperate, wet winters. Spring comes in February
and much of the milk used to produce fresh cheeses comes
from lactating animals who have produced their young between
February and March or, in alpine or high plateaux regions,
on into April or May.
Particularly for the tulum cheeses that mature for up to 20
months, the creamy, rich milk is only gathered once a year
in spring after the birth of kids, calves and lambs. Ewe's
milk, at this time, is extra rich and most cheese makers
will mix it with cow's milk, to dilute it somewhat. The
taste will be different, maybe the aging time will vary also.
But this is what makes Turkish cheeses so interesting.
Quality and standards ensure uniform characteristics in
cheeses but, when it comes to taste, the element of surprise
adds another dimension to flavour quotients. This is the
defining characteristic of Turkish cheeses.
BEYAZ PEYNİR :
commonly known as Feta cheese in the West, is mainly
produced in the Marmara Region, is consumed in
abundance. It can be produced out of sheep or cow
milk, but the production techniques may change
according to region. White cheese needs 90 days to
mature in salt water. High fat content white cheese
is soft and smooth whereas low fat versions are
harder. It is an essential part of Turkish breakfast
and used in börek.
HELLİM PEYNİRİ :
a cheese indigenous to Turkish. It is traditionally
made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk,
although some halloumi can be bought that also
contains cows' milk. Industrial halloumi contains
more cows milk than goat and sheep milk. This
reduces the cost but changes the taste and the
The cheese is white, with distinctive layered
texture, similar to mozzarella, and a salty flavor.
It is stored in its natural juices with salt-water,
and can keep for up to a year if deep frozen at −18
°C (0 °F) and defrosted to +4 °C (39 °F) for sale at
supermarkets. It is often garnished with mint. The
mint is supposed to add a taste while some claim
that it has natural anti-bacterial action that was
traditionally helpful to increase the life of the
Fresh sliced halloumi is used in cooking, as it
can be fried until brown without melting due to its
higher-than-normal melting point, making it an
excellent cheese for frying or grilling, as an
ingredient in salads, or simply fried and served
with vegetables. The resistance to melting comes
from the fresh curd being heated before being shaped
and placed in brine. Traditional halloumi is a semi-circle
shape, about the size of a large wallet, weighing
220-270 g. The fat content is approximately 25% wet
weight, 47% dry weight with about 17% protein. Its
firm texture when cooked causes it to squeak on the
teeth when being consumed.
This dish is simply a combination of halloumi cheese
and either a slice of smoked pork, or a soft lamb
sausage (opinion appears to differ on which is the
true lounza) simply layered one on top of the other
and then grilled. Halloumi is also often used in
bacon sandwiches, but also makes a satisfying dish
on its own or with salad.
ÇÖKELEK PEYNİRİ :
This is a light cheese, which can be made from cow's
or goat's milk. It has a ripe, lactic flavour and is
moist and crumbly, close to powdery, when freshly
made. It dries out quickly if no salt is added.
Our sample was found in the Tuesday market in Milas
and was made in Selimiye Köyü, a near-by village.
Note that it is shaped into a cone and has poppy
seeds added. You can also find it sold in buckets
and trays, as well as polythene or muslin bags. It
is usually made specially for market days.
Çökelek is found all around Turkey and is a bit like
the second pressing of olive oil. After the curds
and whey separate in the cheese making process, the
liquid (whey) is then boiled up again to form a more
humid, less rich curd. It is generally eaten soon
after making with almost no salt added.
A local cheese seller from Kalkan told us that
Çökelek is often mixed with Salamura just to 'cheese
it up' a bit. Salamura is saltier and harder with
more zest, so this raises its taste threshold.
If made from goat's milk and kept in a polythene bag
it is drier and whiter than the cow's milk version.
Both are normally eaten as a breakfast cheese and it
tastes more interesting with black, plump olives.
LOR PEYNİRİ :
Lor is a soft, white, moist cheese which stays fresh
for only a few days. So, it is a localised product
found in produce markets in most areas of Turkey. It
is often compared to Italian ricotta cheese. The
best is made from ewe's milk but is exceedingly
fatty and rich. So cow and goat milk are more
frequently substituted and are lower in cholesterol.
The lack of distinct flavour or nippiness makes it
ideal for cooking and baking. In fact, it is rarely
eaten on its own or even with bread. We did sample
it as a spread between two sweet biscuits and found
it an exhilarating and energetic snack. It is light
and fresh if used to make cheesecake.
You will find it most often used in Turkey for
sigara boregi, giving a creamy interior to this deep-fried,
rolled pastry speciality. Its blandness means that
it does not detract from the primary flavours of its
İZMİR TULUM PEYNİRİ
We found this excellent, semi-soft cheese in İzmir's
Havra Street cheese market. It was matured for a
short time in a Mum, or nylon casing, and then
stored in a metal drum (teneke) steeping in its own
whey. Hence, its contradictory name of both Mum and
teneke. This one was about fourteen months old.
It is a smooth cow's milk cheese, with many small
holes and is a good all-round choice for your
average mouse. The flavour is mild and pleasant made
from cow's milk but comes in a richer and sniffier
version if ewe's milk is used. Both types melt
beautifully due to their high fat content.
This cheese is at its best at about twelve months
old and its preferred soul mates are olives, eggs
and tomatoes. It is good in sandwiches and as a
picnic snack. In İzmir it is often found as one of
the many hors d'oeuvres choices offered alongside
Turkey's potent aniseed flavoured liquor, rakı. We
didn't see this cheese at all outside the İzmir area.
KEÇİ TULUM PEYAZ PEYNİRİ :
Our semi-soft goat's milk cheese was matured in a
deep, round polybag (tulum) and comes from near
Bergama. But this type of cheese can be found
extensively in weekly markets, supermarkets and
almost anywhere cheese is sold. It is likely to be
the typical beyaz peynir, or white cheese, that you
see on sale throughout Turkey. Each village makes
its own and, according to one cynic, "Only the name
The texture here was velvety and luxurious but had a
hint of cheeky youthfulness. If goats eat plenty of
roughage, the resulting cheese will be more firmly
textured and dense. Goat's milk, with its low fat
content, is less frequently found in tulum cheeses
and does not tolerate extended maturing times that
are more suitable for cow's and ewe's milk cheeses.
Our sample was only ten days old and was perfect as
a nibbling snack on biscuits and, to ring the
changes, with fiery hot pickled peppers (dm biber)
and a less assertive pickle preserve known as tur§u.
Locals, of course, use this as staple breakfast
As you sample from various regions, let your palate
be the guide. You will be delighted at how quickly
you can distinguish the small nuances that makes
each cheese unique.
BERGAMA PEYNİRİ :
Bergama is a cow's milk cheese and one of the most
versatile on offer. It is matured in both the
20-kilogram square metal drums (teneke) and in a
casing, or tulum. It is characterised by its rich,
mellow colour and small holes. Originally, Bergama
was encased in an animal skin to mature and was
known as Bergama Deri Tulum Peynir. You can still
find it in and around Bergama sold this way. Our
Deri Tulum sample was from Arafat Gida in Izmir's
Havra Street market but, as Turkey becomes
increasingly western-oriented, sellers know that
their "hair-on' maturing methods are less acceptable.
Bergama is a medium hard cheese that matures for a
minimum of two months. Our sample was seven months
old but still in its infancy. It will be perfect
between eighteen and twenty months. It melts well
and is great on grilled cheese sandwiches, or the
Turkish version, tost. But you usually find more
economical cheeses used for toasting, not Bergama.
It is a breakfast favourite because it has a nutty
and subtle flavour that is adaptable and does not
dominate other foods. It also goes with wines, with
Turkish raki, lager or beer and, we even found its
rustic flavour perfect with dried apricots and dates.
A real all-rounder this one.
Be sure to take Bergama out of the fridge well
before eating and let it "weep' a bit to enhance the
flavour and texture.
ASSOS KÖY PEYNİRİ : Assos is one of
Turkey's most charming and picturesque sea-side
villages. It is down a steep and narrow cobbled hill
but the treacherous descent is worth it to enjoy the
delicious Assos cheese, made in a near-by village.
Head to the Hotel Assos, which is not only
atmospheric, but they know how to buy and keep
cheeses here and treat them with gourmet status.
International gourmets have sampled it and it has
been taken to French food fairs. Only poor keeping
qualities limit it to its home patch.
This is a cow's milk cheese and we ate it at two
days old. After one week, its delightful and
delicious qualities have faded.
The flavour is delicate and light and a bit flowery.
The 'white-wash' colour is so inviting and the
texture versatile enough to be cubed in a
Mediterranean-style salad or spread on bread. Olives
are stunning alongside it. Sprinkle a little pul
biber (sweet red pepper flakes) over it for a
decorative touch. Or try it with bagels or simit (the
round Turkish bun with sesame seeds) for a healthy
and original pick-me-up.
If you need convincing that some of Turkey's cheeses
are gourmet fare, this authentic and lovely sample
will melt away the doubts.
EZİNE PEYNİRİ :
Ezine is a
perennial favourite and takes its name from the
Aegean town of the same name. This is an all-weather
cheese, semi-soft with acid overtones that hint at
its ewe's milk origins. Even though a little woody,
it has an "eat-me' pearly white colour. A cheeky
aftertaste makes it irresistible as a snacking or
nibbling cheese. Piquant foods bring out its flavour
Ezine is a teneke cheese which can be eaten at
twelve months. But, by fifteen or twenty months, it
is truly superb, rounded and matured to perfection.
It teams up well with black or green olives, wines
and fruit juices. We loved it with grapes and apples
as a health snack. It is one of the popular cheeses
to serve with raki and as part of a selection of
meze. (starters or hors d'oeuvres).
Available in many weekly markets and in the
catchment area around its home groove of Ezine, it
is also found in delicatessens around Turkey and in
bustling produce markets like the Spice Bazaar in
North of Ezine on the Dardanelle Straits is £anakkale.
They also make cheese by the same name but it is
almost impossible to tell the difference from Ezine.
We have not put it in a separate listing because the
two cheeses are so similar. If you are in Çanakkale
it is, of course, diplomatic to ask for it by this
EDİRNE PEYNİRİ :
Edirne is a
beautiful example of a ewe's milk cheese matured in
drums (teneke). It is made in the city of Edirne
but, essentially, is a Trakya (European side of
Turkey) cheese. So, you will also find it made in
Corlu, Tekirdag and Kirklareli, probably called by
At 7 months, it has a pungent, nutty taste and is an
alabaster colour. There is a pleasant acidity but,
it ages more graciously than some other cheeses.
Even though it looks rustic and can have some
largish holes in it, it is still lusciously creamy
and assertive at 20 months. It does not yellow with
age. It is fine as a pizza topping or melted over
mashed potatoes, but some may find this flavour a
little rich and too runny. Naturally, locals eat
little else for breakfast and this is the undisputed
cheese choice of champion raki drinkers.
MANYAS PEYNİRİ :
This is a
hard, dryish cheese, made from cow's milk. It is
soft-hued and chewy at seven or eight months and we
liked it best at this age. After this, it turns a
darker yellow and becomes a little too robust. It is
produced and found around much of the Aegean region,
specially around Edremit and as far east as Eskisehir.
It's large holes will remind you somewhat of the
Swiss Gruyere cheese. Both ewe's and cow's milk can
be used in its production but the richer ewe's milk
imparts a fuller throatier flavour and promotes
better ageing. Its flavour is more delicate and
refined if thinly sliced, not eaten in wedges or
hefty chunks. It goes well with almonds and dried
fruits, as well as wines and breakfasts, or second (mid-morning)
breakfasts, along with eggs and tomatoes.
MİHALİÇ PEYNİRİ :
Many consider Mihalif to be one of Turkey's premier
cheeses. It is certainly the one that western
palates will identify with more than some of the
earthier Turkish varieties. Mihalic is a tamer and
less provocative delicacy too.
It is a ewe's milk cheese made in the Bursa and
Balikesir regions of Turkey from a pedigree breed of
sheep. It can be likened to a mild Cheddar and, when
only a few months old, it is white with intermittent
holes and quite soft. Our sample is twenty-two
months old and, here, the holes have become more
uniform and the colour has yellowed to a linen or
flax shade and it has graduated to a medium hardness.
It is important to note that this is not a teneke or
matured cheese. Instead, it is aged on shelves
(from the Salamura stage) in humid air and developes
a rind, that thickens and hardens with age. This
ripening method makes it almost devoid of the
familiar caustic after taste of ewe's milk cheeses.
Try it with rose wines. Or as a snack to nibble with
If you think the understated taste needs a thwack
across the withers, then a throaty Merlot wine or
other chateau-bottled claret makes a lyrical buddy.
SEPET PEYNİRİ :
Sepet is a
chewy, hard cheese, that Turks usually favour at
breakfast. It is quite an expensive cheese and some
hotels in its local, northern Aegean region do not
automatically serve it breakfast. Don't be shy about
asking for it. Its optimum eating age is about
It can be made with cow's milk but the ewe's milk
version is a more vigorous and interesting example
and ages admirably. It is not for wimps! Don't be
put off by the somewhat raw, 'sheepy' after taste.
If your palate needs tweaking to accommodate Sepet's
gamey flavour, team it up with a full-bodied
burgundy or put a few knobs on top of a hearty meat
stew. Our sample was twelve months old and was
perfect with walnuts or other rich foods which
enhanced its unique flavour. It is a great sandwich
cheese too and is found in most places all over the
Aegean region. It takes a little patience to acquire
the taste but it can become a serial favourite.
BALIKESİR PEYNİRİ :
This is one of Turkey's classic and most prestigious
cheeses. And one that deserves to be far better
known and recognised. It is from Sava§tepe, south of
the city of Balikesir. This is a teneke cheese with
small holes and we found it ideal at twelve months
old, mature but with a pleasing yellow colour,
similar to a medium Cheddar. It was still virile and
was made using a mixture of cow and ewe's milk. The
addition of cow's milk dilutes the rich milk given
by ewes right after lambing. But the symmetry is
perfect as it had a smooth, nutty flavour offset by
a grainy texture with medium-sized holes.
Slice it thinly for breakfast or have it with salted
almonds along with drinks or cocktails. It is just
as tasty as a topping on casseroles and is brilliant
for grilling. If you are feeling adventurous, try it
in a French-style quiche Lorraine.
French visitors often ask for this cheese, as it is
not so far removed from some of France's more
refined cheese choices. The best place we found it
was at the Konak Arda Hotel, sheltering in a small
alleyway in the centre of Balikesir. They served it
at breakfast and it was in perfect condition.
This Balikesir cheese is a mixture of cow's and
ewe's milk, but undeveloped at only four weeks old.
Its childish rawness will not need any introduction.
You can taste and smell the difference immediately.
It is still precocious and has a chunky texture. But
it has personality and potential and, having tasted
quite a few cheeses by now, you will be forming some
ideas of your own as to what is going to be a good
companion to this cheese. Remember, it is only
beginning its ageing process and the nucleus of
flavours has just started to evolve.
In the environs of Balikesir, this cheese is aged
naturally from the Salamura stage and you find it
freshly matured. But if you buy it further afield,
it is easier to transport in its teneke; so it is
more likely to be found like this.
DURSUN BEY PEYNİRİ
Dursunbey is a delightful semi-soft country cheese
produced from cow's milk in the fertile valleys east
of Balikesir. The delicate meadow and herb flavours
are nourishing soul food and this was an unexpected
and lovely example of an outstanding domain cheese.This was just two months old and we located it in
the small covered bazaar in Balikesir. It was so
creamy and rich and, locally, is only ever eaten as
a breakfast cheese. The cheese seller stated that it
was an "early morning' cheese eaten between 9am and
Pinpointing consumption times is serious stuff and
cheese is a serious industry here. But, if you can
find it, you will want to eat this cheese any time
or all the time. Better not mention that to the
early morning locals! This cheese is creamy and
fresh; so spreads on a salty Turkish doughnut with
sesame seeds, known as a simit, or on bagels.
It also goes well with fruit, particularly figs and
is heavenly with freshly-picked strawberries.
TENEKE KOYUN PEYNİRİ
Here we have a classic
ewe's milk cheese (koyun peynir) found on tables all
over Turkey. Matured in its own whey bath in a
square, metal container (teneke), it retains
moisture and density better than the tulum cheeses,
which spend their life in polybags. This sample was
twelve months old and is a real cheese-lovers choice.
Compare this one to the ewe's milk cheeses that are
matured in the polybags and see how maturation and
storage methods influence the taste and texture of
cheeses even using the same animal milk. We found
this in the Sunday market in Nazilli and it was
produced from the ewe's milk of several surrounding
We loved the soft whiter-than-white colour of this
cheese with its clean-cut flavour and the right
touch of salt. It is best served at room temperature,
when it will 'weep' a bit. There is no trace of
sheepiness in this and it is a perennial favourite
and hunger stop-gap. If in doubt about picking and
choosing cheeses, this is a safe and satisfying one
to ask for. If it is made from cow's milk, it will
not be quite so smooth.
It goes well with many foods and tones down fiery
drinks like rakı or tequila.
ÖZEL AYDIN KÖY PEYNİRİ
This is a very local cheese, called 'special' (ozel)
from the city of Aydm. It is freshly made using the
milk from various animals. It is a teneke cheese and,
usually, the goat's milk variety will be a bit
whiter than the cow's milk cheese. The ewe's milk
exhibits the smoother and richer qualities and has a
somewhat typical zesty flavour. Note its woody, even
We did not actually find this cheese so special but
it was typical of the sort of all-round, run-of-the-market
cheese that housewives would buy for breakfast, or
that workers would eat with crusty bread and Turkish
tea. It is available in many of the markets around
Aydm and can be made of any of the animal milks. It
flavours out best very young, even two or three
weeks, which means that it will be a little chewy
and the size of holes and texture will vary
according to which milk was used.
It can be cubed on salads, or eaten with tomatoes in
a sandwich. Nothing to write home about but this is
some of the most typical lactic nosh you will find.
DENİZLİ PEYNİRİ :
tasted so many of Turkey's unusual and delicious
cheeses and enthused about most of them. But this is
one we could not get our tastes buds even a little
bit fired up over. It is hard to tell whether it
tastes more like sawdust or soap but has little to
recommend it. "Who eats it, anyway,?" we asked the
cheese seller. But he smiled shyly and said that it
might have corn flour in it to help it coagulate.
Well, it tasted more of kaolin and lined the mouth
like putty. The black flecks in it are sesame seeds.
This is no slur on Denizli, which is a modern and
prosperous city, well known for textiles throughout
the world and for its fresh produce. Beautiful hand-made
glassware is produced here too and so are other
types of user-friendly cheeses.
Well, you can't win them all. Elmali, north-west of
Antalya, is another place that has some pretty
devastating cheeses with hard to find fan clubs.
But, this town, too,
is a wonderful place to visit, wander the lovely
back streets and go to the authentic rural market,
more like a souq, held on Mondays.
CREAM CHHESE / KREM PEYNİR :
This is a commercially produced cream cheese and not
strictly one of Turkey's traditional ones. But it is
so delicious that we wanted to include it as a tasty
treat and a , cheese treasure. It usually comes in a
large plastic bucket. It \ can be found in weekly
markets and is scooped out, by the gram, with a
wooden spade or spatula. It contains gum arable and
this makes it gooey, with a sloppy cement, mastic
texture. But it tastes divine and is saltier than
well-known Western brands of cream cheese. Spread it
on crackers, bagels or use it as a dip. We have
shown it on a spicy, Turkish-style Dorito, which is
particularly scrumptious. It melts well and even a
small dollop on mashed potatoes or any hot dish adds
a topping brimming with creamy class. It then
becomes stringy in texture.
You can also find it in smaller, bite-size pots in
supermarkets and the taste varies somewhat with each
ANATOLIA AND EASTERN TURKEY
GENERAL INTRODUCTION :
The first impression of Turkey's eastern provinces is of
nature's relentless power. Biblical peaks (Mount Ararat),
cradle of civilisation rivers (the Tigris and the Euphrates)
and the searing Mesopotamia plains are omnipotent reminders
of authority. The land and the elements occupy the throne
here and the region's inhabitants conform to the lifestyle
patterns, beliefs and habits long respected by their
forebears. The nomadic survival instinct is a leitmotif of
This region is no place for the nerveless. Similarly, the
local cheeses are extroverts, with huge egos and vigour and
vitality They are brimming with character, local colour and
gastronomic impulsiveness. Without a doubt, we can call
these the alpha cheeses of Turkey.
You will notice that ewe's milk cheeses predominate in these
regions. Certainly there are cows and some cheeses are made
from their milk. Cows lactate for a longer period, so this
is an advantage, but cattle are not as hardy as sheep.
Ethnic conflict in this region reduced animal numbers and,
indeed, agriculture in general. Also, migration to the
highlands (summer pastures) and return to the lowlands (winter
pastures) requires stamina and sheep tend to be hardier and
more versatile as migratory animals and more versatile as a
milk source. Their milk is much richer than that from cows
Against this cultural kaleidoscope, Turkey's eastern region
produces more varieties of cheese than western regions, some
heavily influenced by Arabic food traditions. You will find
that the harsh terrain and life styles are embodied in the
different sizes, shapes, colours and textures of cheeses.
Many eastern foods are hot and spicy, giving cheese serious
culinary competitors and no margin for mediocrity.
Salamura is a cow's milk cheese that you will find
in many markets in Anatolia but we encountered it
more frequently in eastern Turkey, perhaps as a 'buffer'
to counter the spicy and hot cheese varieties
favoured in several locations. It is the favourite
breakfast cheese and is formed from the first curds
to appear after the separation process. The term
salamura actually means "preserved in brine' and
these cheeses are normally sold and eaten at about
twelve hours old. Most people would buy it on a
It has almost no salt but this is added if the
cheese is to be kept longer or to suit individual
taste. Salt makes it harder and it quickly loses its
immature spunk and refreshing sweetness. Salamura
that is not eaten fresh is put into the teneke-style
square drums and sealed. Here it will mature in whey
and go to other regions of Turkey or be exported. It
is sold as beyaz peynir - or white cheese.
Many local villages produce this cheese and bring it
to retail sellers and cheese shops daily. The sample
in our photograph was made by an Adana cheese seller
at their own production facilities.
Its immaturity makes it somewhat bland but still
with a refined taste. It is pure white and has a
soft, silky texture without holes. As it is very low
in salt, you will see many shops marketing it as a "health'
cheese. It is frequently (and erroneously) sold as a
It can be spread on savoury biscuits, used for
sandwiches, or snacks and to accompany drinks. It
makes an attractive addition to a selection of
cheeses for a special occasion.
BEZ TULUM PEYNİRİ :
This cheese is usually sold in 12 to 15 kilogram
pillars wrapped in a woven PVC casing, or tulum. It
is versatile and resembles Cheshire in its slightly
mealy taste and crumbly texture. At two or three
months old, it is starting to yellow just slightly
but, with little salt to obstruct taste buds, its
robust chewiness and stimulating flavour are at
their best. Unusual in a ewe's milk cheese, there is
almost no aftertaste.
located our sample in Adana but it is also found in
Mersin and surrounding areas. It is perfect with
bread or toast and melts beautifully as a cheese
topping, particularly on pizza. It also accompanies
olives or pickles as a between-meal nibble or an
energising snack. For a different taste, try it with
melon or other fruits.
INTRODUCING ANTAKYA (HATAY) CHEESES
Of all the Turkish cities,
Antakya (or Hatay, as it is also known) has the most unusual
mosaic of cheeses. Most of these are found in the historic
han district surrounding the Ulu Camii (Friday Mosque). At
the entrance, you will see a cluster of kunefe salons. These
cater to those with a sweet tooth and it is here that a
regional pastry dish, baked with a rich, freshly made cheese,
very similar to clotted cream, is a speciality.
One of the region's intriguing
early settler customs was for each household to prepare
foods for storage. These were kept for eating during the
winter months. Today, this squirrel mentality is rarely
found in individual homes because modern food production has
modified the need to prepare and horde seasonal produce. But
the practice is recent enough to be vividly recalled by many
local residents and the Folklore Society. In spring, this
means February to April, the freshly made cheese curds (most
of these cheeses start with the basic cokelek curds) were
prepared and then put away in a cool, dry place. This could
be a basement, a cupboard under the stairs or, in more
prosperous mansions, a whole room similar to a larder. It
was important that they were well wrapped or air-tight.
Items were brought out during the winter, washed if
necessary and then consumed.
In Antakya, you can still find
cam, which is sold in a fez-shaped, or conical, mould.
This is a moist cheese, that goes rancid if not kept moist.
Sold in a jug or pitcher,
it is called Comlekli or Testi cheese (literally, jugged, or
potted cheese). Life in a dark earthenware
jug has preserved it and it is still moist but crumbly
enough to enfold in a wedge of bread.
You will find it in the bazaar in elongated amphora-like
is another cheese that benefits
from moisture. Milk from cows or ewes in the highlands and
meadows above Antakya is preferred because of its richness
and moist characteristics. This cheese forms a light, weepy
rind, similar to a French Port Salut.
Antakya's cheeses rival the bazaar itself when it comes to
colour and variety. Although Antakya is also known for its
Christian influences and as a place of pilgrimage, in foods,
you will find the overtones decidedly eastern, both Syrian
and Arab. This means three things, hot, hotter and hottest!
KÜNEFE PEYNİRİ :
Künefe is Turkey's ultimate cooking cheese, more
akin to cream. Its nearest relative is English West
Country clotted cream, and it is velvety moist with
excellent melting qualities. It is salt-free. This
is the only cheese in Turkey that is used
exclusively for one special (and gloriously rich )
dessert, also named Kiinefe.
Kiinefe comes from the Arabic word Kunafeh, or tel-kadayif.
The dough used here is similar to phyllo pastry but
is shredded and looks like delicate angel's hair.
Ottoman conquests in the Middle East gave Turks many
Arab recipes and dishes and kunafeh was a highly
prized sweet in the days of the Califs of Baghdad.
Some of the finest and richest desserts were served
in the Harem, or Seraglio, at the Topkapi Palace. It
is not difficult to see why odalisques grew to such
deliciously plump and pleasing proportions!
The sweet is made with the distinctive 'shredded
wheat' dough and the cheese is added before baking
in the oven, so it melds with the dough into a gooey
confection. Eaten warm, it is irresistible.
To enjoy it closest to home and most authentically,
go into one of Antakya's many homely Kiinefe salons.
These are simple, uncluttered eateries and you only
get tea or coffee and kiinefe on small plates or, if
you wish, as a take-away package. Many local people
pop in to these Kiineferiums for a mid-morning or
afternoon snack and a quick 'rich fix' of this
lovely food. Professional bakers make it up fresh at
least once a day.
It is worth sticking rigorously to your diet for a
day or two to really indulge in this incredible
sweet. It is also found outside Antakya but the chef
will probably hail from the east and his pastry-making
skills will have transmigrated along with him to
other urban areas.
SÜRK PEYNİRİ :
This is a fiery, spicy cheese containing thyme, red
pepper, ot (mountain herb) and parsley. At the
perimeter of Western tastes and tolerances, it is,
nevertheless, such a pretty and unusual colour and
strawberry shape that you must sample just a morsel.
It needs nothing to enhance or extract its flavour.
Its origin is Arabic and one way of enjoying it is
to slice the cheese thinly over salad. This is
called Cayfura Salatasi and, although the cheese is
a little dry and crumbly, this teams up well with
moist or succulent greens. At breakfast spreads or
on meze platters in eastern regions, you may see it
rolled into thumb-nail size pinkish patties, with a
small olive oil puddle in the centre. This starts
the day off with a mere hint of hotter things to
Whatever you think of this unusual cheese, it is not
for the faint-hearted or for brittle palates. It is
not usually found anywhere outside Antakya, where
spicy eastern foods rule the culinary roost.
SÜNME PEYNİRİ :
Resembling boot laces, this is a squeakey-chewey
cow's milk cheese, almost like putty, and not found
outside the Hatay region. It is very salty; so keeps
well. Antiochians reconstitute it by dousing it in a
hot-water bath for a few minutes so it loses its
salinity and turns into a beautiful melted floss. It
retains its pliable elasticity but dousing and
melting turns it into an uncomplicated, interesting
cheese that is easier on the palate.
You can melt it on toast for an interesting texture
and it makes a stunning colour contrast served with
tomatoes. If you prefer it saltier, then there is no
need to soak it: Sunme can simply be fried lightly
Similar to Sunme and with the same characteristics
is Sukma. Only the shape is different. Sukma comes
in patties yet still has its characteristic
gooeyness. If you suggest eating these two cheeses
other than at breakfast, you will appear peculiar to
Antiochians. A raw and somewhat unrefined taste
probably means that you will not want to experiment
too much with either of these cheeses at any meals.
Imagine it as a close cousin to the cheese curds
that Little Miss Muffet consumed before vacating her
Even if neither of these cheeses ends up as a
favourite taste-wise, at least put it on your table
as a curiosity and its "lace-up" shape will
invariably get conversation rolling.
ŞANLIURFA BAHAR PEYNİRİ :
Şanlıurfa is not
particularly well known for cheeses but our semi-soft
Bahar (which means spring) sample was a lovely find.
In private houses, it is still made from the first
ewe's milk in spring, making it very rich indeed.
Its velvety smoothness and squishy texture contrast
strikingly with Şanlıurfa's arid and stark sandstone
vistas. Bahar cheese is shaped into a roundish ball,
pure white and very moist but with no trace of
sogginess to mar its delicate taste and waxy texture.
The curds are matured in a muslin wrapping. As it
ages, it hardens and loses its pristine colour but
keeps a soft flavour and slightly salty aftertaste.
This is not a delicate cheese but a distinctive one.
Unusual for most Turkish cheeses, this one goes
nicely with lager and beers.
Serve it with tomatoes and olives as a snack or for
breakfast. It can be sliced thinly over salads. It
is primarily a local cheese but we also found it in
perfect condition in Ankara at Erzincan Mandıra.
INTRODUCING DİYARBAKIR CHEESES
Locals estimate that, in the
environs of Diyarbakir, there are at least 200 villages that
are engaged in cheese and dairy production. Most comprise
small farms with only 25 or 30 animals. Each village would
have about 200 or 300 animals in total, mostly sheep,
although cattle still make up a part of the agronomic
economy of the villages. In this region, it takes about six
kilograms of milk to produce one kilogram of cheese. For
most cheeses, including the tulum and teneke types, the milk
does not have the cream skimmed from the top; so it is rich
and full. The cheeses made from it will be called tarn yagh,
or full cream.
Diyarbakir has a thriving
Cheese and Yogurt Market, which was the city's central bus
station up until 1991. Due to the cold climate here, cheese-making
conforms to the seasons more than in the temperate western
or Black Sea regions. The wonderful tulum cheeses from this
region made from ewe's milk are produced later in the year,
in April, May or even into June. Many of these are sold to
markets in major urban centres and won't be produced again
until the following spring. But cow's milk will be used if
there is excess demand over supply. This is not true for the
teneke cheeses that keep much longer in their air-tight
containers. The favourite cheeses that Diyarbakir locals
crave at breakfast are the local Salamura and the elongated,
braided rope known as Orme.
Of outstanding significance here are the herbed cheeses. You
will see beautiful pure white cheeses flecked with herbs,
known as ot. Ask for otlu peynir and you will be invited to
sample and maybe even give your opinion of these local
DİYARBAKIR OTLU PEYNİRİ (3 DAYS 7 INFANCY) :
Diyarbakır's distinctive style of otlu cheese is
found in the Yogurt and Cheese Market near the
Mardin Gate. Our sample is a soft cheese, only three
days old and made from cow's milk. It has a pure,
humid taste and, although matured in brine (teneke),
it had little chance to become salty. It keeps for
up to four weeks but a little salt improves the
flavour. The ot is also very special and is "imported'
from Van, where the best quality highland herbs are
sweeter and longer-stemmed, adding value to the
cheese. Authentic ot does not grow in Diyarbakir.
Many dishes complement this cheese. With tomatoes,
onions, or hot bread, it is best. But it looks so
nice, you will want to try it as an interesting
addition to a mixed cheese platter. It is fine as a
simple, energetic snack on crackers or biscuits.
In the spring, when shepherds and flocks migrate to
higher pastures, this cheese is made from ewe's milk,
and is even fuller and richer, with a more lactic
bouquet. It is mostly found in Diyarbakir and
surrounding villages but also in the Fatih Bazaar,
near the central Fire Station (Itfaiye) in Istanbul,
where many Kurdish cheeses, meats and indigenous
products are found. This is also known as the Siirt
DİYARBAKIR OTLU PEYNİRİ (4 MONTH / YOUTH)
This is the same style cheese as on the previous
page but this time made with ewe's milk and it has
aged to about four months. It is a much richer,
creamier and denser cheese but you can still
identify the essential earthiness. This is still a
cheese close to the source and reminiscent of
mountains and meadows. It is a bit more lactic and
clingy but still has no trace of acid. You would not
eat this cheese when it was freshly made: it needs
to mature to at least this age before being
It melts in your mouth, but tends to form runny
lumps in cooking. But the subtle aftertaste is
starting to form. Again, the ot content is a
conversation piece and symbol of pastoral origins.
This type of ot cheese is aged in metal drums
(teneke) and in our photographs has just been
removed from the brine bath. It takes about 8
kilograms of milk to make 1 kilogram of this cheese;
so you will not find this anywhere as a cheap or
communal garden cheese.
DİYARBAKIR OTLU PEYNİRİ (GRANDE DAME AT 7 MONTHS) :
This is a good example of how age affects cheeses in
a relatively short time. This is a "tarn otlu'
Diyarbakir cheese, made with full-fat ewe's milk. It
is similar to the younger relatives but has become
noticeably saltier at seven months old. Note what a
more forceful cheese this is, much punchier and more
pungent. Its aftertaste is typically more barnyardy
but developing perfectly. Now the cheese is ready to
team up with more interesting foods and offers mean
competition to olives or spicy foods and can be used
in omelettes or as a garnish in spinach dishes. It
melts beautifully. Although Diyarbakir inhabitants
like this as a breakfast cheese, we considered it a
little too bossy to start out the day. Some gourmets
prefer dominant flavours later in the day.
Note that all our ot cheeses here are made with
Diyarbakir ot, which is not the same as the mountain
herbs used in the close cousin from Van. In fact,
the Diyarbakir version is more like parsley and not
as high quality. The cheese can be soaked for a
minute or so in hot water to remove the saltiness
and then it becomes more mellow and pliable.
DİYARBAKIR DİL PEYNİRİ :
unusual cheese takes its name from its tongue (dil)
shape. It is found in many places in Turkey and you
peel it off in strips or splinters to eat. It is a
little acid and has a woody flavour that gets
stronger as it ages. Our sample was a teneke cheese,
quite salty at four months old and was made from a
mixture of ewe's and cow's milk. It needs nothing to
coax out its aggressive taste; in fact, it calls for
an equally assertive palate partner. Olives are
perfect with it and so are green peppers or sun
dried tomatoes. Try it slivered on pumpernickel
bread to add a bold new dimension to the culinary
Even if this cheese seems a bit vulcanised at first,
don't give up on the first chew. It is not very
appetising on its own and needs something to go with
it. Give your taste buds a chance to acclimatise to
It can be readily found in weekly markets,
supermarkets and delicatessens all over Turkey. It
is also available commercially packaged and has the
characteristic "peeling' quality but the taste is
synthetic and under-proof compared to our authentic
DİYARBAKIR LAVAŞ PEYNİRİ :
Lavaş is a medium hard cheese that is shaped like a
pancake or patty. Our sample was five months old,
made from ewe's milk and on the way to maturing into
a chewy, nearly rubbery cheese, probably on the
perimeter of western tastes. With its striated
texture and dominant harshness, one can not imagine
a culinary honeymoon with this specimen. But it is a
good example of just how much of a haphazard
coincidence the process of turning milk into cheese
can be when uniform bench marks are lacking.
Lavaş, can be found in several neighbouring villages
but not often outside Diyarbakır or its inner city
cheese markets and delicatessens.
The ot here is locally grown in the lowlands and is
more like parsley than its succulent, better quality
cousin from Van. It is boiled before being added to
the heated milk and before the rennet is added. By
contrast, the herb grass from Van is usually added
to the curds after the rennet i.e. when the curds
and whey have separated.
SİİRT OTLU PEYNİRİ :
rarely finds "domain' cheeses in Turkey but our
trade mark sample was a ewe's milk cheese made by
one local Siirt producer, Haci Ridvan. At five
months, this semi-soft cheese was much older than
our other Siirt Otlu sample on page 98 and, because
it contains so much of the ot in proportion to
cheese curd, it is less expensive. Locals call it
'ufak' which means the junior version. This is a
weepy and clingy cheese with a heady, rural odour.
It may be too earthy for some tastes but, if you try
it in its home territory around Siirt, you have a
more convincing idea of its subsistence-related
It is quite crumbly and is perfect for cooking in
sigara boregi (rolled cheese straw), sprinkled
lightly over tomatoes or salads and excellent with
fresh Turkish bread.
We found our cheese in the Siirt Pazan, within the
Fatih market area in Istanbul, and it was sold under
its producer's name.
Siirt is close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders
and makes other interesting things. Check out the
natural goat-hair rugs which have the original "with-nap'
Also the most wonderful olive oil soap to be found
anywhere. It is an authentic green colour and looks
uneven and rough-hewn: buy the milder version, if
possible, as it lathers better. Siirt sabunu (Siirt
soap) is available in the Fatih market in İstanbul.
SİİRT OTLU PEYNİRİ :
is a very young ewe's milk cheese with a soft, mild
taste and smooth, velvety follow-on flavour. The
sample in our photograph is medium hard and about
three weeks old. This is the 'senior' version of the
Siirt cheeses and contains less ot. It is younger
and this is the ideal time to eat it because it ages
quickly and acquires a deeper yellow colour and a
more stringent taste from soaking in its brine bath.
It will have the familiar punchy residue associated
with ewe's milk cheeses but becomes chunkier and
chewier. By five months old, it will have too much
bounce to appeal to
The ot quality here is important because we find the
most succulent highland herbs, which are often as
expensive as the cheese. It can be found in the
Siirt region and in the ethnic bazaar in İstanbul's
This is a versatile choice and goes with red and
white wines. It is perfect on a gilingir table, with
mki and accompaniments. With a little more
imagination and experimenting, we found this cheese
utterly superb with walnuts, pistachios or with
fresh figs. It teams up happily with other fruit.
VAN OTLU PEYNİRİ :
Many people know Van cheese from its flecks of
mountain herbs, or ot, resembling chives. This is
one of Turkey's most distinctive cheeses but, alas,
is hard to find outside the eastern provinces of Van
or Kars. Our sample was a ewe's milk 'domain' cheese
from one village, Giirentas., near Van and we
located it in the Fatih market in central Istanbul.
It is a chewy, Anatolian speciality and, these days,
is more often found in vacuum packs. These
commercial clones have nowhere near the flavour
threshold and authentic character of the original
Van Otlu Peynir. The ot itself is known for its
herbaceous nutrients and flavour.
Van cheese is matured in brine (teneke); so acquires
a somewhat acid, lactic taste with a characteristic
rustic flavour and an assertive after-nip. It gets
more pungent after two or three months and may be
less appealing to tamer tastes. The anaemic,
jaundice colour is typical and natural. It goes with
many things and, in a cheese selection, is
guaranteed to start the conversation rolling. It is
great as a breakfast cheese, as substantial nibbling
food and gives wines or other alcoholic drinks a run
for their money.
Due to freezing and extended winters, animals give
birth (and therefore milk) later in eastern regions,
sometimes as late as May or June. The cheese-making
process occurs later here. Animals in the gentler
western regions of Turkey normally drop their young
during February or March.
KAŞAR PEYNİRİ :
This is Turkey's best-known and most popular cheese.
It resembles a mild or medium Cheddar and they both
have the same pale yellow colour and texture and
gain their unique flavour after being left on
shelves to mature over several months. Yeni (or new)
Kaşar comes in commercially-produced, vacuum-packed
rectangular logs but this is not the same as the
real thing, which is Eski (old) Ka§ar, produced in
wheel-shaped moulds, mostly around Van and Kars. The
cheese seller cuts off as much as you require.
This cow's milk cheese is much used in cooking. It
melts well as a topping for hamburgers or stews and
is the cheese preferred in the Turkish waffle-grilled
cheese sandwich, known as tost. It is very versatile.
It is often served at receptions, cubed on cocktail
sticks. It goes with most drinks, can be grated on
pizzas and spices up a plain salad. Stuff it into
hollowed out tomatoes and simmer lightly for a
nutritious luncheon dish.
Ka§ar is one the few cheeses that forms a real rind
and can be eaten young at two or three months, or
when it is nippier and more interesting (and
developes its distinctive rind) at eighteen or
twenty months. Some varieties have small holes and,
as in our photo, mold often forms at maturity.
Cheese-sellers then call this penesil (penicillin)
cheese and, like our blue Nigde cheese on page 117,
it is a fortuitous accident of nature, not induced
Kaşar travels well and makes an unusual, but
representative, souvenir of Turkey.
The European side of Turkey also makes Kaşar,
although less spectacularly. It is called Trakya
Kaşar and is most easily found in Istanbul at the
Eminönü end of the Spice Bazaar. It typically bites
back with a little grittiness but the flavour is not
as rounded or expansive as its Anatolian cousin,
which uses milk from highland cattle.
The making of Kaşkaval cheese was a Jewish tradition
and the Jewish residents of Trakya (European Turkey)
were well known for their excellent cheeses. They
produced cheese here well into the 1930's. It is
widely believed that the name of this cheese, Ka§ar,
was an adaptation of the word kaşkaval, which
probably meant "kosher cheese'. The term kosher
would have been applied to the rennet that caused
the curds and whey to separate into component parts.
This used to be made using the innards of a young
animal stomach, but now is an entirely vegetable
based, more synthetic substance readily found
CİVİL PEYNİRİ :
A n unusual and remarkable cheese which tastes far
better than its fibrous, 'witches wig' appearance.
It has little fat and a modicum of salt and excess
salt can be removed by soaking the cheese for five
or ten minutes in boiling water. It can also be
lightly fried in butter and, although it retains it
mastic properties, it has a pleasant, lactic flavour
and leaves a lingering residue on the tongue.
It is a teneke cheese and lasts well in its brine
but only about ten or twelve days once taken out. It
is most often found around Erzurum, Erzincan and
The taste is a bit raw when immature but, because it
keeps well in brine, it makes a versatile and
INTRODUCTION KAYSERİ CHEESES
The plains surrounding Kayseri
have sustained food production for centuries and villages
like Pınarbaşı, which has 15,000 or 20,000 animals, are
devoted exclusively to dairy farming. In Roman and Ottoman
times, this region of Anatolia was known as a granary or
bread basket for its agricultural bounty.
Although the bazaar area
(bedesten) in the centre of Kayseri has several shops
selling cheeses, the most colourful and unusual examples of
local cheeses are found in the open-air market which
specialises in just cheese and yogurt. Next door is a
produce and vegetable market. This is known as the Kayseri
Koy Pazari and it is near the Archaeological Museum. We
found all our cheeses here.
As in the regions further east, particularly Diyarbakır,
when ewes finish lactating, cheese production will continue
if there is demand but cow's milk will be substituted. The
cheese may have the same name but the milk may come from
As you become an expert on
Turkish cheeses, you will find it much easier to tell the
difference between them, whether they were made from ewe,
cow or goat's milk and their approximate ages. If you can
tell which village or local area they come from, then you
can count yourself a professional. But don't worry about
having too much competition, because there are relatively
few Turkish people who can identify cheeses outside their
immediate local area.
ERCİYES PEYNİRİ :
In October, we unearthed this wonderful Anatolian
ewe's milk cheese. It was unusual to find this
produced so late in the season. Most ewe's milk
cheeses would be produced in March or April here,
not July or August, like this young cheese. But it
had sensational spunk, a rasping and rich texture
and generous, nutty flavour. There was little
aftertaste but this did not detract from such a
hugely satisfying cheese. We found this in a local
Kayseri dairy market, near the town centre. It would
be an ideal cheese to typify the really outstanding
cheese choices available in Turkey but, alas, we did
not find it at all on the conservative tables of
It is ideal as a snack cheese and infinitely
satisfying with bread and olives, the typical
Mediterranean ploughman's (or fisherman's) lunch. It
goes with just about any drinks. In cooking, it
melts to a molten gooeyness - divine.
If you like your punches hard, then try it as a "chaser'
with a Bloody Mary...
ÇERKEZ PEYNİRİ :
This is a
young, raw-recruit cow's milk cheese with a deep,
buttery colour and just a hint of rind beginning to
form. It contains little salt, so has a short life
span. But this is an exceptionally tasty village
cheese. With its indigenous freshness and simplicity,
it throws out no complicated flavour signals or
palate alerts. Because of its immaturity, it is ever
so slightly elastic and, if kept too long, loses its
Our sample was about one month old but keeps only a
few months. It is not easily found outside Kayseri
and the hinterland dairy villages.
Taste-wise, it is soothing, even bland, and makes a
perfect mate for saltier or spicier foods. Try it
with Antep Ezmesi, a spicy tomato and red pepper
spread or dip. It is lovely on salted crackers and
makes an eye catching colour contrast on dark rye
bread. It goes well with wine or beer or just as a
between-meal snack cheese.
We liked its flavour better when it was thinly
sliced rather than cut in hunks or chunks.
PINARBAŞI ÇERKEZ PEYNİRİ :
This is one'of the relatively few 'domain' name
cheeses in Turkey but this one is from Pınarbaşı, a
thriving dairy and cheese-making village about 90
kilometres east of Kayseri. It is produced in rounds
weighing two to three kilograms. Our sample was only
3 or 4 days old, so still moist and weepy. Maturing
in a nylon stocking (forap) encourages the formation
of a light, musty rind, not unlike the French cheese
St. Paulin. It can be matured for up to one year.
Locals consider their local delicacy as, "better
than Kaşar". This is a matter of personal palates.
See what you think.
It is a fine breakfast cheese and, for more formal
occasions, it can star on a buffet spread or a
cheese tray. If more people knew about this cheese,
it might entice it out of its rural hiding place -
and maybe encourage it to sport a more elegant body-suit.
COW PATTY CHEESE :
is a three-day old cow's milk cheese. It is so young
and fresh that it is seems like shimmering cream.
The full cream milk gives it its richness and
enticing colour. It has a gout-de-nil flavour and no
salt added. A beautifully innocent and pearly-white
cheese, it is magic as a spread on German black
bread. In Kayseri they regard it as a breakfast
treat and add salt if they want to preserve it,
after which it begins to harden.
It is similar to Quark, a soft European curd cheese.
It is great as a dip with onions or crushed garlic
and parsley added. You can also use it in cooking.
Try it in cheesecake for a creamy-fresh and smooth
Our sample was found in Kayseri but many villages
make day-old, fresh cheeses which they serve for
breakfast. Ensure they are made from pasteurised
milk for health reasons or from a farm that has been
tested under government regulations.
NİĞDE PEYNİRİ :
located just south of the Capadoccia region in
central Anatolia and sheep graze here on the steep
and lush slopes of the Bolkar Mountains. This is one
of the richest ewe's milk cheeses we found but a
rare treasure by any culinary yardstick. It is a
tulum cheese and is usually matured in twelve-kilogram
poly bags. At about twelve to fourteen months old,
it is a translucent, alabaster colour but still with
a chunky texture. The taste is superb, we say
luscious. It matures and improves better than many
other cheeses and can be eaten at three or four
months or when a little more crumbly, at up to two
years. Then it begins to dry out.
This is a connoisseur's delight and we consider it
one of Turkey's truly noble cheeses. Try it in
cooking, as it melts smoothly. It pairs well with
just about everything in the food, drink and snack
line. For a magical treat, use it in a cheese
souffle. This will be a more rustic, parish-pump
version of this dignified French classic but
supremely satisfying and utterly original.
NİĞDE PEYNİRİ (BLUE) :
This showy cheese starts out as Nigde but if the
curds are not packed tightly enough into the tulum,
air fills the gap and Penicillium spores start off
the process of forming the blue veins typical of
this cheese. Some more famous blue cheeses have the
spores introduced to kick start the process but,with
Turkish cheeses, this process is more like a happy
The French cheese, Roquefort, has usually been
credited with being the only blue cheese to be made
from ewe's milk. But you now know that there is a
second one! It can still be eaten at fifteen and
eighteen months and is smooth and creamy yet retains
its characteristic translucehce.
It is not unlike Stilton in its tanginess, but not
made to the same meticulous standards or quality.
Once we found it in a rural market around Christmas
time and, with a glass of port, decided it was a
wonderful cheese that should be up there with the
classics, both in flavour and appearance.
BOLU PEYNİRİ :
This is a
tulum cow's-milk cheese named after the mountainous
region north-west of Ankara. It is unusual in that
Bolu cheese is more often found made from goat's
milk. Secondly, cow's milk is rarely used to make
tulum cheeses. Made with cow's milk, Bolu has a
lighter texture and, because it has only a touch of
salt, it can be quite raw and unrefined when eaten
young. Even at two or three months old, the curds
form moist, chewy crumbs. In its prime, it melts in
your mouth and can be a little clingy but there is
no mistaking the assertive bovine aftertaste.
This cheese is an excellent partner to light and dry
red wines. As it ages, it changes from a linen
colour to a more yellowish hue.
Bolu is at an altitude of 980 metres and cows graze
higher up on the steep, fertile pastures You can
taste and smell a distinctive alpine wholesomeness
in this cheese. It is best eaten at about six to
eight months old, without the rawness and before it
ages to harshness. It will not keep as long as other
Remember to take it out of the fridge several hours
before eating to allow the flavours and its soft
crumbliness to develop. It is solid and lacking in
flavour if eaten straight from the fridge.
You can use it in cooking but the curds stay in
stubborn lumps, even if the flavour is pleasant.
AKSEKİ PEYNİRİ :
made from goat's milk and the nomads who produce it
spend the summer months living at rarefied altitudes
above 2,200 metres. It is a tulum cheese and matures
beautifully, becoming a luminous sallow colour as it
ages. The goats eat an excess of roughage and this
gives cheese (and other dairy products) a distinct
aroma and results in a much more supple-textured,
close cheese. In the yaylas high above Akseki, we
tasted a yogurt with a pithy, bitter cedar flavour,
as this is the only tree that survives the prolonged
and extreme winters and harsh, dry summer months at
this high altitude. By the end of the summer season,
goats have eaten most other vegetation and the
cedars are the only remaining fodder - hence natural
cedar-flavoured yogurt. This is a beautiful example
of one of Turkey's richest and loveliest goat's milk
cheeses. We found it in the weekly produce market in
Kaş. Almost no rind forms and this cheese has an
interesting sub-nip with a marked grittiness. For a
goat's milk cheese, you will find it extremely
robust and tangy. Our sample in the photograph is
about twelve months old.
It also melts beautifully in rich, creamy strings
and has a more pronounced goat flavour. Add it to a
velvety cream sauce (bechamel) or, finely grated, to
a rich meat stew just before serving in place of
We tried another sample of Akseki in the town of the
same name near its production source. This was a
much younger, whiter cheese compared to the one in
our photograph. We noted a softer, immature texture
and a more pronounced goat "whiff.'
Note that portions taken from the top of the goat's
skin tulum are much saltier. Go for a larger piece,
sliced from further down the tulum if you prefer
less salt. Although somewhat chewy, this local
version of Akseki had a natural, rural aroma - truly
from the 'great outdoors.' But there was almost no
after-taste or lingering on the tongue. Mildly salty
and dominated by a woody, highland (yayla) flavour,
it had a crumbly, brittle texture compared to the
smoother, more potent version in our photograph.
This one also melts well, more in lumps than in
elasticised strings. A goaty flavour perists.
For Turks, the cheese of choice that partners their
national drink, raki, is invariably Ezine. But,
after tasting these high altitude cheeses, they
would surely give them a seal of approval as superb
SUPERMARKET CHEESES :
Supermarkets and small grocery stores (bakkal) all
over Turkey also stock fresh cheeses. The dairy
section will always have vacuum-packed, commercially
produced varieties but the delicatessen or
charcuterie counters offer a good selection of both
teneke and tulum cheeses, sold by weight. Smaller
stores may offer less choice and cater to local
tastes but super or mega markets will have a huge
assortment of cheeses and, as in country markets,
will let you taste and sample. Migros, for example,
a national supermarket chain, often has small plates
of cheesey nibbles and samples set out near the
There is no reason not to widen your appreciation of
cheeses by shopping at supermarkets. Depending on
where you shop, you will probably find cheeses that
are not listed in our book.
BLACK SEA CHEESES
The Black Sea region of Turkey
also produces cheeses but these are less representative
examples of national preferences and more localised than the
other cheeses featured. Nevertheless, if you visit the Black
Sea Region, you will at least know what to look for.
Giresun produces its own style of fokelek cheese that is
used on Black Sea pide bread. This cheese is also known as
keş, (dry curd or skimmed milk cheese), made from boiling up
the fatless whey.
In Ottoman times, many Black
Sea people, particularly from Rize, went to seek work in
Russia. Here they learned the art of bread and pastry making
and brought the skill back with them to Turkey. Today, many
of Turkey's master bread and pastry chefs come from Rize or
other Black Sea towns. This is a definitive yardstick for
excellent bread or cakes. Black Sea pide (Kara Deniz pidesi) bread is famous throughout Turkey.
Around Yusufeli and Artvin, a special type of lor cheese is common, known as Kurtlu Lor.
In the mountainous Çamlıhemşin
/ Rize area, the best known cheese is Minzi and it is also
popular in and around Trabzon. This is quite a bitter and
acidic cheese and the local people usually cook it or mix it
with another Black Sea staple - cornmeal. The dish is hearty
and nourishing but you will understand from its heavy taste
and gritty flavour why it has not ventured much beyond its
local fan club.