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."
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 the specialities.
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 Diyarbakir.
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.
CHEESES OF WESTERN TURKEY
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
KREM PEYNİR / CREAM CHHESE
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
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 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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kaşar 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.