If you are a self proclaimed cheese-aholic like myself, Turkey can be a wonderful but also intimidating place. As cheese and yogurt are staples in Turkish cuisine, the natives have found many different ways of expressing their fondness of this dairy delight.
While there are many different types of cheeses in many cultures, the Turkish varieties may be harder for expats to decipher because most of them aren’t popular in the West (at least not where I was shopping).
In order to make it easier, I’ve compiled a list of Turkish peynirler (cheeses) that I have personally tried, and when I know it, comparisons to American equivalents.
Not to be confused with Indian paneer… Peynir just means cheese.
Also, it is important to know that every peynirci (cheese maker) can produce a slightly different tasting cheese… And even different batches can vary! For example, I prefer the tulum from the beach peynirci more so than the city one. Make sure to get a taste before you buy! They don’t mind handing out samples.
So without further ado, and in no particular order…
Beyaz peynir : the ubiquitous cheese Turkey is known for (and the one I could actually find in specialty stores in the states). Salty and briney, this is a more moist version of feta.
Tulum: prepared similarly to cheddar (kept in a press and aged), this cheese is moderately dry and crumbly, ranging in flavor from a mozzarella+cheddar baby to a taste I can only compare to cow skin. This can be aged in skin (deri) or a standard press. If you get the opportunity, go for the izmir tulum.
Ezine: Ezine is a softer, very moist cheese that can be made from goat (my fave) or cow milk. It can be slightly sweeter than others, and is great at kahvaltı with bread.
Kaşar: tbh, it’s kind of Turkish mozzarella. A stretched, fresh cheese with all the mozzarella properties you crave.
Lor: Turkish ricotta, the cheese curds that are forced out of the whey remaining from bacterial fermented cheeses. Should be eaten in handfuls (or not. But that’s my personal recommendation). Tulum lor and kaşar lor are delicious.
Çökelek: not to be confused with lor, it is a bit drier and comes from ayran (watered down yogurt ) rather than whey.
Labneh: Turkish cream cheese… Which I have not eaten or tried to cook with (yet), but I see it all the time at the store.
Süzme peynir: the most moist and spreadable cheese I’ve found to date. The flavor is similar to cream cheese, but it is slightly firmer and you can pick it up without getting a mess on your fingers.
Küflü peynir: Turkish blue cheese. Just do it!
One thing that is very important to consider when buying cheese (from a peynirci), is that they don’t have preservatives. Well, at least not a lot if they do at all. That means that the cheese you buy at the pazar won’t taste the same a week or two later (depending on the type, the change can happen slow or fast). This is because of a little thing called oxidation. Oxidation causes fats in cheese to break down, making the flavors we love/hate. As time progresses (especially if your cheese has a lot of surface area) oxygen will act on the exposed parts of the cheese, changing the flavor! Like I said before… You may love it or hate it. For example: 2 week old tulum tastes like how a cow’s skin smells… And I hate it! That doesn’t mean the cheese is spoiled, it’s just aged!
To limit oxidation:
1. Don’t cut up your cheese until you are about to eat it
2. Store it in whey/brine
3. Cover it in a film of oil (good for lor and çökelek, which can be pressed into a box)
4. Eat it quickly!
While this list is in no way all inclusive, it does cover your basics. While the time I spend in Turkey increases, I hope to come back to this post and add more!