TURKISH CHEESE (PEYNİR)

OTTOMAN CUISINE

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 mention.
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."

OLIVES

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.

CHEESE TERMS

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 the specialities.

CARA : 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.

CAYFURA : This is a type of salad, Arabic in origin, it is made using the hot, red-coloured cheese, Sürk.

ÇÖKELEK : 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.

DERİ : 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.

DİL PEYNİR : Cheese that pulls away in strips and strings, this means literally 'tongue' cheese.

KAŞKAVAL : This is a freshly-made Kaşar cheese which is a distinctive yellow colour and usually forms a rind.

KÜFLÜ : A cheese with mold or rind.

LOR : 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).

MANDIRA : Dairy farm or cheesery, usually small and uncommercialised. Orme Cheese literally, knitted or braided, cheese, found in eastern Turkey around Kars, Erzurum and Diyarbakir.

SALAMURA : This is cheese that has been pickled in brine.

SÜRK : A fiery, hot cheese, red in colour, which is Arabic in origin. Found mostly in the Hatay region of Turkey.

TESTİ PEYNİR : 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.

CHEESES OF WESTERN TURKEY

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

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

BEYAZ PEYNİR : White cheese, 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

HELLİM PEYNİRİ : Hellim is 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 grilling properties.

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 cheese.

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

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 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 host.

İZMİR TULUM TENEKE PEYNİRİ

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 BEYAZ PEYNİRİ

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 changes!"
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 fodder.
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 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 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

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 perfectly.
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 Eminonu.
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 name.

EDİRNE PEYNİRİ

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 these names.

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

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

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 beer.
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 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 twelve months.
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

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.

DURSUNBEY PEYNİRİ

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 10am.

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

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 hamlets.
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

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 barnyardy, aftertaste.
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 CHEESE

DENİZLİ PEYNİRİ : We have 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 CHEESE / KREM PEYNİRİ

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 producer.

CHEESES OF 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 eastern Turkey.

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 or goats.
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 PEYNİRİ

SALAMURA PEYNİRİ : 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 daily basis.
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 diabetic cheese.
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

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.

We 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 pitchers.

Küflü 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 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

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 come.
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

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 in butter.
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 tuffet. 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

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

Cheese Alley in Diyarbakır   Any size or shape you want

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 specialities.

DİYARBAKIR OTLU PEYNİRİ (3 DAYS / INFANCY)

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 Pazari.

DİYARBAKIR OTLU PEYNİRİ (4 MONTHS / YOUTH)

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 palatable.
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)

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

DİYARBAKIR DİL PEYNİRİ :  The 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 matrix.

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 dil peyniri.
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 eastern sample.

DİYARBAKIR LAVAŞ PEYNİRİ

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

SİİRT OTLU PEYNİRİ : One 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 origins.
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' hair patterns.
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

SİİRT OTLU PEYNİRİ : This 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
most tastes.
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 Fatih market.
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

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

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 deliberately.

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 commercially.

CİVİL PEYNİRİ

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 Sivas. The taste is a bit raw when immature but, because it keeps well in brine, it makes a versatile and different cheese.

INTRODUCTION KAYSERİ CHEESES

Cheeses are found in Kayseri's central market area   Kayseri Market has interesting and varied 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 different animals.

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

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 Kayseri.

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

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 impetuous character.
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

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

COW PATTY CHEESE :  This 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 texture.
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

NİĞDE PEYNİRİ : Niğde is 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

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 accident.
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

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 tulum cheeses. 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

AKSEKİ PEYNİRİ : Akseki is 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 cream.
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 drinking companions.

SUPERMARKET CHEESES

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 delicatessen counter.
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.