As food safety regulations are increasingly designed to suit big businesses, protecting a cheese that was wrapped around animal skins and aged in a cave requires some courage. Many peculiar Turkish cheeses are in desperate need of trademarking, a practice the country has failed to develop.
Even though Turkish cheeses aren’t commercially widespread, the culture of eating cheese in the country begins with breakfast. Cheese is served as a starter, as meze, and used in main dishes and desserts.
In small village markets in Anatolia, you’ll come across an unexpected variety of cheeses that are unknown to many, even to Turkish citizens.
Many dairy products and cheeses from Anatolia have been noticed by Slow Food. Some form Presidia, and some are registered under Ark of Taste. We chose three of the most interesting and rare ones.
We are in south central Turkey, on the roads that lead to Karaman from Ereğli. This cave cheese is produced in the village of Divle, also known as Üçharman, located in Karaman province. The plateau here is sun-baked with no grass, extending as if it has no end. The village has only around 300 inhabitants.
The Turks have a special term for the barren landscape of Anatolia: bozkır, yellow pastures for the undisputed realm of nomadic herders and their livestock. In this nomadic culture, sheep and goat skins are seen as the best containers for preserving cheese, resulting in tulum, or “cheese in a sack”.
The cheese is well known for its red colored goat sack used for aging. Traditionally, the milk of the local Karaman sheep breed was used to produce the cheese. However, due to the heavy decline in their population, their milk is less available.
Divle cheeses are stored and aged in a single cave at the end of the village, to avoid the effects of the heavy summer heat. Over time, the tulums become covered in molds from the Penicillum roqueforti strain, which gives the sacks the characteristic reddish color. When the cheese gets this color, usually by four to twelve months, it is ready to be eaten.
Today, Divle cave tulum faces an uncertain future. Industrial dairies make cheeses under the same name, that have none of the complexity of the real Divle cheese. The Presidium works with the two producers who are currently registered, to draw up a production protocol that will certify and protect the cheese’s quality.
It takes around a thousand liters of milk to obtain only one Kars Gruyère (Kars gravyeri). The Kars region is known throughout Turkey for the exceptional quality of its cheeses.
However, today there are very few who make it the traditional way. Most Kars Gruyère is produced industrially, with the addition of selected cultures.
Compared to its Swiss cousin, Boğatepe Gruyère is produced without the addition of ready bacterial cultures.
The village of Boğatepe is three thousand meters above sea level and the proponibacteria present here transfer naturally to the cheese.
As a matter of fact, the tradition of Gruyère in Kars is inherited from Swiss-German communities that settled in Kars at the end of the Russo-Turkish War. In 1878, Tsar’s officials found themselves in front of the endless highlands of Kars. They immediately saw the region’s potential for cheesemaking.
They came with their skills, materials, herds, and the propionibacteria necessary for fermentation. This bacteria is essential to create the cheese’s characteristic holes.
Kars becomes a part of Turkey a century ago, and the Zavot village gets a new name, Boğatepe. Today, the cheesemaking traditions in the highlands still continue. The Presidium supports the few producers still working in the mountain pastures, helping them to find the right balance between artisanal methods and food-safety requirements. Recently, Kars gravyeri became the first Turkish cheese to have a registered trademark origin.
Also known as gürcili, çüründük, çürük, çürnük, this cheese is produced in the Posof-Hanak districts of Ardahan and the Savsat district of Artvin in northeastern Turkey. The production of Gorcola is seasonal, and limited to a very specific area.
It is also not possible to produce it industrially. Hygiene rules and procedures due to EU accession period are also hindering the possibility of this cheese to be sold commercially.
Gorcola is light and creamy, and is generally produced from skimmed cow’s milk. When matured, it develops mold and becomes green.
After the salting process, the cheese is pounded into animal skins with the help of a mallet. The filled skins are turned upside down and buried under soil to mature for about three to four months. After taking out of the soil, it is kept at room temperature until consumption.
Click here to see all the dairy products from Turkey on Ark of Taste.
Cheese is an event organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra. To discover what we do, visit slowfood.com.