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THE INDISPENSIBLE INGREDIENT OF TURKISH TABLES: CHEESE

The history of cheese probably goes as far back as that of milk. Cheese holds a special place not only in Turkish cuisines, but also in the cuisines of the world. According to many views, cheese originated in Mesopotamia, in other words in some parts of Anatolia. The type of cheese is determined by the production stage. Factors such as the quality of the milk used, the protein and fat content, the amount of bacteria that it contains, the conditions of the factory, temperature and humidity levels, the quality and the production techniques used for the additives influence the variety and the taste of cheese.

According to the Turkish Food Regulation, cheese is “a dairy product with particular taste, aroma and consistency, produced by coagulating raw milk, UHT milk or milk cooked at 72 degrees for two minutes with cheese yeast or a harmless acid, and leaving to maturation for a particular period.” In order for milk to turn into cheese, first it needs to coagulate and there are mainly two methods used to achieve this. The first involves leaving milk as it is; in which case it will go sour and coagulate. The second method involves adding yeast to milk, and leaving it to coagulate. As a result of this coagulation, the liquid called “whey” is released. The fresh cheese produced through this process is called “teleme.” The Teleme is left to maturate for particular durations, and through various methods it then becomes ready to be consumed as cheese. Turkish culinary culture features about 20 cheese varieties in about five groups; kasar, tulum, mihaliç, lor, and the white cheese group which is the most important.

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.

The Tulum variety of cheese is produced by breaking up the teleme, salting it and letting it sit in special bags. Lamb’s milk and a certain ratio of goat milk is used for producing the tulum cheese, does not contain any air pockets, and is left for maturation for at least three months. This yellowish cheese, which is produced especially in the northeastern Anatolian and Aegean regions, tends to be more expensive than other varieties of cheese. However the tulum cheese of the Aegean Region is kept is salty water, which accounts for its different taste.

Kasar cheese is prepared in cylindrical molds and it is dark yellow in color. Generally it is produced with lamb’s milk. In Turkey, kasar is generally produced Middle Anatolian and Thrace regions. To produce one kilogram of good quality kasar cheese, at least ten kilograms of milk are required. After the teleme is put in perforated buckets, it is immersed in hot water at 73 to 75 degrees, and then it is knead and cooked. It needs to sit in round shaped containers for at least a month. The wonderful kasar cheese is consumed by itself or added to dishes.

Mihaliç cheese is mostly produced around Bursa and Balikesir and it involves letting the teleme sit in salted water. The only feature that distinguishes it from kasar is that it is prepared through immersion in hot water at 40 to 45 degrees. Because of this, it is harder than kasar, white in color, and contains little holes. It can be consumed with foods that require melted cheese or eaten by itself.

Lor cheese is created with the whey released during the production of kasar and mihaliç. The extra whey is boiled, and the resulting coagulated matter is broken up into tiny pieces. Lor is an unsalted and inexpensive type of cheese generally consumed as bread spread with the addition of walnuts, tomato paste and various condiments. Alternatively, it is used as börek filling.

Other than these major varieties, there are many other types of Turkish cheese; the Otlu cheeses (Eastern Anatolia) are produced by adding cumin, mint, bay leaves, dill, oregano, saffron, fennel or lavender to the white cheese and burying it underground for at least two months. ÿrgü cheese (Southeastern Anatolia) gets its name because it is prepared in braided hair form, and it is suitable for frying. In addition to Dil (Marmara Region), Civil (Eastern Anatolia), ÿamur (vicinity of Izmir), ÿerkes (Black Sea Region), Golot (Eastern Black Sea Region), Sikma (Southeastern Anatolia Region), Carra (vicinity of Hatay), Abaza (Middle Anatolia Region), Yörük (vicinity of Denizli), there are many other types of cheese which get their names from the containers used for maturation; çömlek, küp, çanak, and testi, etc.

Kirli Hanim produced around Ayvalik features white cheese filtered in reed baskets, salted and left to mature in a cool place, and it appeals to gourmet taste. Künefe Cheese is produced in the vicinity of Hatay, singularly for use with the dessert dish Künefe and semolina sweets. One of the most special varieties of cheese produced in Turkey is Kars Gravyeri, which has holes and needs to be left for maturation for at least ten months before it can be ready for consumption.

The cheeses which peynirl outside of the main varieties get their particular characteristics from the geographical conditions of the region. In inland regions, where difficult winter conditions prevail, cheese are tend to be saltier and harder. On the other hand, in coastal regions, lighter varieties of cheese are preferred.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation

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