Friday, December 16, 2005



By Artun Unsal

The traditional pastoral diet based on meat and dairy products
continued to be the backbone of the Turkish cuisine even after Turkish
tribes made the transition from a nomadic to a settled existence as
farmers from the 9th century onwards. Among the Turks of Kashgar, for
instance, animal products were the principal elements of nutrition,
even though they also consumed wheat and flour.

This is reflected in the 11th century Turkish dictionary, Divanu
Lugat-it-Turk, written by Mahmut of Kashgar between 1072 and 1074, in
which he cites the words udma and udhitma for fresh cheese, and
translates the Turkish sentence "Ol udhitma udhitti " as "He made
cheese". The verb udhitmak originated from Uighur Turkish and meant to
put to sleep, to make solid or to leaven, so etymology reveals the
delightful idea of milk solidified into fresh cheese being sleeping
milk .

The modern Turkish word for cheese, peynir, first occurs in the Book of
Dede Korkut, a collection of orally transmitted legends which were
first written down in the 12th and 13th centuries. Evidently this word
first entered the Turkish language following the migration from Central
Asia. The Turkmen tribes knew how to make several different varieties
of cheese and must have adopted this new term for them on their way
westwards through Iran or after their arrival in Anatolia.

Anatolia already had its own cheeses originating in antiquity. Writing
about the northwestern region today encompassing Bolu, Izmit and Iznik,
the famous historian Strabo says, "In the interior of Bithynia above
Tieion is Salona, where alone are the finest pastures for cattle and
where Salonites cheese is made."

In his history of the Ottoman dynasty, Ashikpashazade (1400-1484)
writes that Osman Gazi gave gifts of cheese, dried yogurt, fat and
clotted cream to the Byzantine rulers of Bilecik in return for
protecting the property left behind in their winter settlements by the
Ottoman tribes in their seasonal migrations to the summer pastures with
their herds.

The Code of Law issued in 1502 by Beyazit II gives the names of cheeses
from all over the Ottoman Empire which were sold in the markets of
Istanbul: fresh lor cheese, kaba lor cheese, fresh dil cheese, fresh
cayir cheese, Mudurnu cheese, Shumnu cheese, Karaman cheese, Sofia
cheese, Eshme cheese, Midilli (Mytilene) cheese, teleme cheese, cheese
in brine (white or feta cheese), Limni (Limnos) tulum cheese (cheese
made in a goatskin bag), Izmit tulum cheese, Rumelia tulum cheese,
fresh kashkaval cheese, and Balkan kashkaval cheese.

Today there is a general misconception among Turkish urban dwellers
that Turkey does not possess a wide range of cheeses. This is because
few regional cheeses find their way into city shops. In fact there are
a great many varieties, many little known outside the area where they
are made, a finding which is not surprising in a land which has been
home to many civilisations over thousands of years.

I will begin a brief tour of Turkey's cheeses with cokelek, made from
the whey left over from the cheese making. The people of Anatolia who,
as the expression has it squeeze bread out of a stone , neglect none
of milk's potential and process it in every possible way. Even the
greenish yellow liquid known as whey left over from making cheese or
lor (a soft curd cheese) from the milk is not discarded. When the whey
is boiled up a new curd known as cokelek or cokelik forms.

Apart from the plain cokelek cheese sold in Turkey's large city markets
and shops, there are many interesting regional varieties which are
either eaten fresh or preserved by pressing into goatskin bags or
pottery jars, or alternatively dried in the sun. Some examples of these
are nebolu sut cokele i, Giresun cokelegi which is used as a filling
for the famous Black Sea pide (thinly rolled bread dough with various
fittings on top baked in the oven), Rize's kurci cheese which is eaten
with corn bread for breakfast, Kars cokelek which is used as a filling
for layered pastries and in salads, the jaji cheese of Bitlis, Afyon's
Emirda cokelek which is preserved in lambskins, the Kirk Tokmak
["fourty pestle"] cheese of Milas, and Hatay tulum ["goatskin bag"] cokelek
which is mixed with fresh thyme and black cumin seeds.

A close relative of cokelek is kurut, dried bricks of yogurt made of
low-fat milk or of cokelek made from buttermilk. In some regions kurut
is known as kesh. Since it has a lower fat content it keeps well. Some
of the best known regional varieties are the kurut of Kars and Bitlis,
the surk (dried cokelek) of Hatay, the kesh of Mengen and Giresun, and
the dried cokelek of Aydin.

Lor is a soft fresh cheese, a relative of the somewhat harder textured
Ricotta of Italy and the Greek Myzithra and Anthotiro. It is produced
by dairies making kashar (a hard yellow cheese) from sheep's milk. Lor
with a variety of flavours is also made in rural homes from the whey
left over from cheese making.

Lor is eaten without salt or very slightly salted, so it does not keep
well. It is an ingredient of various savoury dishes, layered borek
pastries and puddings. For breakfast or as a snack fresh lor is
delicious with sugar, honey or jam.

The lor of Kirklareli made from kashar whey is well known to
connoisseurs, and other delicious varieties are the lor of
Mustafakemalpa a (near Bursa), Manyas in Balikesir, and above all of
Savashtepe, all made from Mihalic cheese whey.

There are cheeses common to both sides of the Aegean. For example, the
fresh lor cheese of Ayvalik in Balikesir is left to drain in a basket
mould and eaten fresh, like its counterpart on the island of Mytilene.
The Kirlihanim cheese made from lor in Ayvalik, Foca and Karaburun is
also made in Greece. When mixed with strained yogurt and olive oil it
makes an hors d'oeuvre fit for a pasha. The kopanisti of Ceshme and
Karaburun is another shared element of Aegean cuisine.

Other regional varieties of lor cheese in Turkey are Antalya lor
cheese, Kars kurtlu ["larvaed"] cheese, the kurtlu lor of Yusufeli in
Artvin, the Minzi cheese of Camlihemshin in Rize, Trabzon Minzi cheese
and tel karishik ["string mixed"] cheese, and Rize's ayran ["buttermilk"]

By far the most widely consumed type of cheese in Turkey is white
cheese ["feta cheese"], which can be eaten fresh or after maturing in
brine. Teleme is a type of white cheese made almost everywhere in
Turkey by straining the pressed curds, sometimes in a bag hung from the
ceiling. Soft, high fat white cheeses made usually of ewe's milk in the
northwestern regions of Trakya and Marmara are the most highly
esteemed. The high-quality ewe's milk of Ezine, Biga and the area
around Edirne means that their white cheese pickled in brine is superb.
Antalya's white cheese made of a mixture of goat's and cow's milk also
deserves mention.

Cheeses mixed with herbs are a subdivision of the white cheese family,
and traditionally made of ewe's or goat's milk, but in recent years of
a mixture of these with cow's milk. To the white cheese is added 15
percent or less wild herbs. These cheeses have always been well known
in eastern and southeastern Anatolia (Kars, Agri, Diyarbakir, Van,
Siirt, Hakkari, Mush and Bitlis), and are becoming increasingly
familiar in Turkey's major cities.

There are many varieties of these herb cheeses. That made in Van
contains wild garlic, while that of Bitlis contains a local herb known
as sof otu which grows in damp situations. Horse mint (Mentha
longifolio) and Pimpinella rhodentha are other herbs used.

Fresh cheese spoils quickly, which is why preservation processes such
as pickling in brine, pressing into skins, being left to mature under
soil or sand or in caves, or lightly blueing with mould have

Tulum cheese - cheese preserved in a goatskin (hairy side outwards) -
is widely made everywhere in Turkey apart from Trakya. The finest are
those of Erzincan, Erzurum and the alpine pastures of the Toros
mountains dividing central Anatolia from the Mediterranean coast.

Kashkaval (fresh kashar) and mature kashar are dense textured cheeses
native to Anatolia, which is where the Turks made their acquaintance.
The most famous is the kashar of Trakya, which is moulded into drums 16
cm high and 30 cm in diameter and weighing 11-12 kilos. Other fine
kashars are those of Mush, Bayburt, and Trabzon's Kadirga and Tonya

Dil ["tongue"], Cerkez ["Circassian"] and Abaza ["Abkhaz"] cheese, tel
(literally string ) cheeses, and orme (braided) cheeses are other
notable varieties which I can do no more than mention here. But I would
like to end with what in my opinion is the king of Turkish cheeses,
mihalic. This cheese is made in the provinces of Balikesir and Bursa of
full-fat, unpasteurised milk from the kivircik sheep. It is white in
colour, characterised by bubble holes 3-4 mm in diameter, and with a
hard irregular rind 2-3 mm thick. It is extremely well flavoured and
keeps well. Hard, mature mihalic cheese is in no way inferior to
Italy's famous Parmesan cheese when grated over pasta dishes.

Diversity of cheese types is influenced by four main factors: cultural
habits and tastes, natural conditions, the species and variety of
animal providing the milk, and production methods. This is equally true
of Turkey, where scores of local cheeses in every region are now
beginning to be discovered, putting the country on the cheese map at

* Prof. Dr. Artun Unsal, lecturer at Galatasaray University.

1 comment:

Maria said...

I really love traditional food eating this make so much happy.

Maria[Mens Suits]