16 Most Popular Turkish Cheeses
The variety of local cheeses is one of the most valuable treasures of any national cuisine. Some countries are proud of their cheese, and Turkey is no exception. We especially praise our breakfast cheeses!
A Turkish breakfast is considered incomplete without cheese. I’m not talking about just one type of cheese; usually, there are several cheeses on the breakfast table.
You can also find cheeses used in various breakfast dishes: cheese omlette, cheese börek, menemen, and cheese fritters are among the favorites of Turkish home cooks.
There are many factors that contribute to the cheese culture and diversity in Turkey. The type of livestock varies greatly due to the geography of each region, meaning there are many different types of cheese made with the milk of a variety of animals.
The fat ratio of the milk used is decisive in the structure of the cheese, as is the method to make the curd. There are also different methods for storing cheese, which varying depending on the region. Fresh or aged, spices and herbs all go to create the cheese’s special character.
Migration was a huge influence on the food and beverage culture in Anatolia, as well as the natural microflora, climate, and traditions. Migration brought different cheese production techniques to some regions, while cheese production in other regions meant families could turn it into a source of livelihood, allowing them to stay in the region and keep their culture alive.
Here we describe the types of cheese in Turkey, giving examples of cheeses made using methods specific to the region, giving a virtual regional cheese map.
1. Kars Gruyere, Kars Kashar, and Cream Cheese
We start with a cheese story from Turkey’s eastern border. Anatolia is a region where western and eastern cultures are synthesized, and this is a good example.
It’s a cultural journey that starts with the settlement of the Molokans on the Kars-Ardahan plateau during the Ottoman-Russian war. The Ottomans lost the war and Kars fell into the hands of the Russians, though it is now a Turkish city.
Meanwhile, a very important individual arrived in the city: David Moser. Moser, a Swiss cheese producer, likened the geographical structure of Kars to that of Gruyère and established a gruyere workshop there.
The Molokans, who had only recently migrated to the region, learnt the cheese production methods. And, when the Russians withdrew from the region, after the October Revolution of 1917, the very few Molokans who specialized in cheese production continued production.
Later, as a development project of the newly established Republic of Turkey, cheese production changed to involve less processing than that for Kars gruyere. Cheese masters from the western and easternmost parts of Turkey travelled to provide training and technical support, and Kars Kashar was introduced.
Another cheese produced from the ingredients left over from making Kars Kashar and Kars Gruyere was cream cheese.
Cheese is valuable to everyone in Turkey, and not only for its place in the culinary culture. It was possible for the people of a war-torn city to survive on cheese production and for that reason alonecheese became highly valued.
To keep this value alive, a cheese museum was established in the village of Boğatepe in Kars, and their production techniques were transferred to future generations.
Turkey has hundreds of kinds of cheese. Some of these cheeses, each more precious than the next, are eaten all over the country. Some are unique to the region where they are produced. Here are the most popular, most delicious, and most original cheeses from a cultural treasure that would not be complete even in dozens of books.
2. Turkish White Cheese
The cheese most eaten in Turkey is the classic white cheese in salted brine.
Its taste, smell, and texture a the result of the ripening method. This less porous, salty, medium soft white cheese is stored in brine and cut into small amounts when sold. It is indispensable for Turkish breakfasts and is eaten almost every day in every home. It is known as the Turkish equivalent of feta cheese.
3. Ezine Cheese
This extraordinarily delicious cheese originating from Çanakkale is a light yellow-white, medium hard fatty cheese. It is produced by mixing the milk of different animals: sheep, goats, and cows.
If you have the chance to tastes Ezine cheese, I suggest you prepare yourself a breakfast of good bread, plenty of juicy fruit such as watermelon or melon and a good slice of Ezine. Watermelon-cheese-bread is a legendary trio in Turkey.
4. Mihalich Cheese
This cheese, made with full-fat sheep’s milk, has a characteristically sharp smell. Mihalich cheese, a porous, hard, salty cheese is just one of the unique flavors of the Marmara region.
Its production here is the result of another migration story. It is the gift from Albanians who migrated to the region almost 250 years ago.
5. Smoked Circassian Cheese
This cheese, which has a very characteristic flavor that lingers in the mouth, is produced by processing cow’s or sheep’s milk.
It is ripened with salt and kept in a cold environment for a few days, then it is smoked for a week. If you like smoked flavors, fry or grill the cheese for a few minutes to bring out the flavor.
6. Basket Cheese
This cheese, which takes its name from its shape, is produced using traditional methods. The processed milk is shaped in baskets, and when the cheese matures, all the canes of the basket appear embroidered on the cheese. It is a low salt cheese with a porous structure.
7. Tulum Cheese
There are tulum cheeses from many cities in Turkey, but two are particularly popular across the country. From East Turkey comes Erzincan Tulum Cheese, and from the West comes Izmir Tulum Cheese.
It is a type of cheese that is generally produced using only sheep’s milk, or sheep’s, goat’s and cow’s milk together.
The cheese gets its name and taste from the aging method. Pressed with salt into a bag made of animal skin, this cheese turns into one of the sharpest, most delicious and unforgettable cheeses you can eat. Cheese bags are sometimes prepared in natural caves and sometimes in humid and dark artificial environments.
The special Tulum cheeses of each city go very well at breakfasts, or with pastries and pastas.
8. Antakya Surk Cheese
What makes this dried curdle cheese special is that it is blended with zahter, tomato paste, and spices. This mixture is shaped and dried and goes through a short molding phase.
To prepare it for eating, it is crumbled up and olive oil is drizzled over it. You can imagine the level of flavor when accompanied with toasted bread.
With full Turkish breakfast culture (serpme breakfast) spreading round the country, you should be able to try this local flavor almost anywhere in Turkey.
9. Kesh Cheese
Produced using a pressure method in cloth bags after being degreased, this cheese is kneaded with various flavors and dried in the sun. It has a slightly sour-ish, fat-free, whitish color, making it perfect with yufka – a type of bread that is dried after pre-cooking.
10. Van Herb Cheese
One of the most unique Turkish cheeses is Van Herb Cheese, which definitely lives up to its name. Around 25 herbs specific to the region are used.
It is produced in the spring months, when sheep’s milk is most abundant and the grass diversity is at its highest. It is blended with salt and ripened for between 3 and 7 months.
11. Gaziantep Pressed Cheese
This is a cheese known all over Turkey as “village cheese”. It is is made with fermented and filtered milk and pressed and shaped by hand. It has a reputation for being very salty as keeping it in brine is the best way of preserving it for delivery to every region of Turkey.
It has to be placed in hot water before eating to thoroughly cleanse it of the saIt. It is also known as Gaziantep pressed cheese.
12. Dil Cheese
There are different versions of this cheese, which has very little salt melts well. The unsalted künefe cheese, used in the dessert künefe, is also produced by the same method. What distinguishes this cheese from the other string cheeses is that it is made with whole milk.
Braided cheese is also prepared in a similar way and, although it is knitted into a large mass, it can be separated into thin strings. This cheese has a bright white color and oily texture.
12. Kolot Cheese
This is one of the most popular cheeses in the Black Sea region. It is also the main ingredient of the breakfast dish called Mıhlama kuymak, which is known and loved all over Turkey. This medium-hard cheese, with its light yellow color, is left to mature in wooden barrels.
There is not much difference between Kolot cheese and string cheese. Both are made using the same methods from milk from the lush highlands of the Eastern Black Sea Region. Their taste and uses are almost the same. String cheese differs from Kolot only in that its shape is made into long threads.
String-shaped cheeses are also quite common in other parts of Turkey. For example, Çeçil of Kars and Civil cheese of Erzurum are some of Turkey’s string cheese treasures. Civil and Cecil cheeses can be distinguished by the fact that they are prepared with skimmed milk and sometimes appear as blue cheeses.
13. Konya Moldy Cheese
After the degreased sheep’s or goat and sheep’s milk is fermented, the whey is filtered and the resulting cheese is pressed onto sheep or goat’s skin and left to mature in a cool environment for 3-4 months. There are other blue cheeses in Turkey, but this one got the name moldy cheese due to the natural mold formed in the process.
14. Divle Obruk Cheese
This cheese can only be produced in a few villages in Turkey because it can only be matured in a unique cave: Obruk. Obruk, which means “pothole”, may allude to the cracks in the cave where the cheese is preserved.
Made with goat and sheep’s milk, this cheese is pressed onto animal skins and left to mature in the Obruk cave.
Thanks to the cave’s microflora, the color of the cheese skin turns green-blue, then white, and after about 5 months, it turns red. If the leather gets air, a natural blue cheese is obtained. It can take up to 2 months for it to mold naturally once it is taken out of the cave. If you have the opportunity to taste this cheese, you are really lucky because annual production reaches only about 70 tons.
15. Pottery Cheese
There is a type of cheese that is given dozens of different names, for example pot, jug, crock. Although the type of milk, flavoring and rennet used differs, the storage method is always the same. After the cheese is pressed into a ceramic pot, the pot is closed up and buried under the ground, allowing it to mature. It is a method commonly used in the inner parts of Anatolia. Prepared using full-fat cow’s milk, rennet, and salt, Sivas pottery cheese is perhaps the simplest of the pottery cheeses.
16. Yalvaç Pottery Cheese
Yalvaç Pottery Cheese is prepared in the same way, but covered with a special mortar before aging. This cheese, with black cumin, matures for about one year and has a unique smell and bitter taste.
In fact, every city in Central Anatolia has its own Çömlek cheese, which has many names such as Yozgat pot cheese, Avanos pottery cheese, Kayseri crock cheese, and Niğde pottery cheese. You would expect these cheese to be much the same. The types of milk used in the various cities which are geographically close, the diet of the animals that provide the milk, and the climate of the regions are very similar. In fact, even the storage techniques are basically the same.
But the small differences directly affect the quality, aroma, taste, smell, and texture of cheese. For example, the mouth of some pots is covered with cloth, some with lard, some with mud, and some with stones. Where it is buried is sometimes soil, sometimes sand. A slight difference in production, aging or storage method adds new cheese to our cheese treasures.
The survival of such a cultural treasure has depended on the transfer of centuries-old traditions and methods to new generations.
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