Turkey 250: Intro to Turkish Cheeses

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…

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Turkish cheeses

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!

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Girl so cheesy…!

Last Christmas my hubby bought me a cheese making kit for making mozzarella and ricotta (ricotta is basically lor).  While making ricotta was as easy as ever, I had a few issues when trying to make the mozzarella.  Simply put, my curds would not stick together! After several tries, however, I did succeed.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a weirdo, but I love adhering to some of the traditional roles of a house wife.  I love to cook, especially baking breads from scratch, making yogurt and pasta (makarna), making cheese… gardening is also a great joy of mine, although at the moment I am confined to planters on a balcony…I desperately want to learn to sew… and on another note, painting and art is another great passion of mine, and I look forward to being a stay-at-home mom in the future, inshallah.  Not to say that the “progressive” career woman should be shamed, of course not.  I used to think that was the path for me, but with time and experience I learned that, regardless of the job I was in, I did not feel fulfilled.  It’s a personal thing, I guess, and I- as a progressive and a feminist- think that women should do whatever they enjoy…be it career oriented or family oriented.

Anyway, back to the cheese.

cheese  Between the trouble shooting guide and my own food science background, I was able to figure out what had gone wrong during the various times my mozzarella was unsuccessful.  I hope any cheese makers out there find this helpful.

1.  Temperature

Basically, if your milk gets too hot when you are initially heating it, then your curds will be loose.  Temperature is one of the parameters used to denature the milk proteins, allowing them to clump up together and fall out of suspension.  For ricotta it doesn’t matter if it gets a little too toasty in that milk matrix…but for mozzarella, you need to hit that exact temperature, no more, no less.

2.  Time

Time goes hand-in-hand with temperature.  Basically, if you don’t let the initial temperature rise go slowly, you are likely to overshoot the temperature before your thermometer can catch up, or scald the milk at the bottom of the pan while the rest is still too cool.  Keep your burner at medium low.  It may take a while, but it is worth it in the end.

Also, don’t forget to let everything rest appropriately.  After adding the rennet, after cutting the curds, after stirring them, etc.  Follow the directions, and if anything, add MORE time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day…

3. Stretching

I guess this is kind of temperature also…when the time comes to immerse your curds in a water bath/ microwave to melt the curds and stretch them- you are doing just that…melting them!  I see time and time again that people get anxious and don’t let their curds get hot enough at this point.  I like to use a colander-like spoon (I don’t know what it is called- it is wide, flat, and has holes instead of slots), spreading the curds out fairly evenly instead of leaving them in a clump, then submersing the mass into the water bath.  They should look like a melty mass before you pull them back out.  When you stretch them, it should be so hot you almost scald your fingers… hey, wear gloves.
Also, don’t over-stretch the curds.  As soon as they look shiney (maybe three or four turns in the water bath, four or five stretches each time), round it off and throw the mozzarella balls into the ice bath. Over stretching results in a dry and rubbery cheese.

Good luck cheesy people!