Cheese has been around for millennia, becoming a must for breakfast and lunch tables, and Türkiye offers plenty of varieties when you are in the mood for a cheesy treat
Cheese is an indispensable part of our daily lives, with different varieties produced with a wide range of methods, milk, additives and varying aging periods. The characteristics of cheese, such as its texture, smell, taste and color, vary depending on numerous factors, including which animal’s milk was used, whether it was stored in brine or salted, and whether it was aged or not. These factors mean that each region produces unique varieties. And some of the most unique and tasty cheeses you can find are in Türkiye, across its seven dazzling regions.
It is predicted that there are more than 1,000 types of cheese worldwide. Furthermore, some have geographical indications, many of which are still produced using traditional methods throughout Türkiye.
Let’s talk about some of Türkiye’s cheese varieties – and their production – which is essential for Turkish breakfasts, snacks and even main courses.
Although feta cheese, which occupies the top spot among cheeses produced and consumed in Türkiye, is produced from goat and sheep milk in its original form, there are also feta cheeses made with only cow’s milk or a mixture of three kinds of milk. This cheese is made in the tin or brine, especially in the Thrace, Marmara, Aegean and central Anatolia regions.
Çeçil cheese, made from raw milk produced in the eastern Anatolia region, especially in the provinces of Kars and Erzurum, is also known as çeçil cheese, string cheese or tel cheese. It is a type of unsalted cheese produced by separating, acidifying and fermenting the fat of milk from animals fed with fresh grass grown in high-altitude areas. The cheese is made by the stages of souring, fermenting, heating the milk, the fat of which has been separated, kneading and pulling the obtained curd, hanging it after the cheese is given a string structure, and ripening it by salting or pickling.
Çökelek cheese, one of the most consumed cheeses in our country, especially in rural areas, is a cheese obtained by boiling the buttermilk left over from making yogurt, milk, ayran or butter. It has numerous names across Türkiye, ranging from çökelek to “ekşimik” in western Anatolia and Thrace, to “keş,” “kesik” or “urda” in the Mediterranean region, “minzi” or “minci” in the eastern Black Sea region, “jaji,” “cacık” and “torak” in the eastern Anatolian area.
Türkiye has a rich geography with a treasure trove of product variety. Many products are known and recognized by the names of the geographical region from which they originate. One of these products is Ezine cheese, which received its geographical indication in 2006. Ezine cheese is a full-fat white cheese produced by mixing the milk obtained from sheep, goats and cows fed by the natural vegetation and water resources in the northern and western parts of the Kaz Mountains in Balıkesir and Çanakkale, in specific proportions according to the seasons. The cheese has a light yellow color that is almost white and has a medium-hard texture.
Örgü – or braided – cheese is a fatty, stretchy cheese; as the name suggests, it has a braided shape. Knitted cheese is usually made by mixing raw sheep’s milk with şirden yeast, is included in the group of cheeses with boiled curd and is kept in brine. Its production is carried out in the spring period. It was registered with a geographical indication in 2010.
Basket cheese, a cheese found in the Marmara and Aegean regions, is a cheese that is still produced and consumed after it came to Türkiye through immigrants. It is generally fermented with sheep or goat milk immediately after milking. It is a cheese stored by salting to break and mix the formed curd. It is then heated, filtered, put in baskets and shaped.
Curd cheese, frequently preferred by consumers due to its fast production and low cost, is obtained by boiling the whey left over from cheese making. It is a cheese rich in nutrients and especially protein. Since it is a fresh cheese that spoils quickly, it can only be stored by salting or drying in the oven.
The name “Kaşar” comes from the origin of the Hebrew word “kosher.” Kaşar – or provolone – cheese, which was produced in the highlands with low storage and transportation conditions in ancient times, can be made in every province and every business today. One of the essential features of cheddar cheese, a semi-hard cheese, is that it is boiled and kneaded after the curd ferments. This cheese resembles some Balkan – Kashkaval, Kashkaval, Kasseri – and Italian – Caciocavallo, Provolone, Mozzarella – cheeses.
Erzincan tulum cheese is white and buttery with a sour taste. It is mainly made with the milk of the Akkaraman sheep, but also with the milk of the Morkaraman sheep when necessary. In Tulum cheese, the milk is fermented raw. After the fermented milk turns into cheese, it is kept in filters for seven to 10 days and then pressed into the skin. Finally, the cheese, which reaches its consistency after being held in cold storage, is ready for consumption.
Van otlu (herb) cheese, which is produced in the provinces of Van and Hakkari and has a history of more than 200 years, is a medium-hard cheese that can be fermented fresh or in brine, made from particularly sheep’s milk but also cow or goat milk, or a mixture of them all. Its distinctive feature is that it is obtained from fresh milk and includes various herbs. A study states that helix, sirmo, sov, siabo, and mendo herbs used in Van otlu cheese exhibit antibacterial properties. In addition, vitamin C, which is not found in most cheeses produced worldwide, is found in this variety.