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Article about Old Kashar Cheese

Altan Gürel general manager

Production of Kashar cheese which is not much appreciated by us, young generation is still maintained in some dairy farms, even though the number of them is less. Thrace known for the good taste of its meat is also the land of the most delicious Kashar cheese in Turkey. It is begun to be produced in May and continued until the end of October. Because the milk used is produced only within this period. Then the dairy farms are closed. This is not true for major producers, of course. However our main focus is not the cheese produced by them, rather the real cheese produced by dairy farms trying not to collapse against the industry.

Gürel Dairy Products, Producer, Kırklareli

Kashar cheese and feta cheese are produced by using only goat's and ewe’s milk in Gürel dairy farms in Değirmenci Village situated in Kırklareli. Our conversation with the owner of Gürel Dairy Products, Altan Gürel brought to light how Kashar cheese is produced.

Dairy farms are operated seasonally. A mother ewe continues to breastfeed its lamb for 45 days or two months following the birth. Then, the lamb is separated from its mother and dairy farms begin to get milk on the 90th day. This period corresponds to the mid of August, even the end of August depending on the ship giving birth. It is the same for goat’s milk. The pregnancy of both lasts five-five and a half months. A goat gives birth to two kids in average and the kid sucks the milk of its mother for about two months and is then ablactated. The lactation of a goat is longer than of a ewe. It can be milked until November. While a ewe gives 1 liter of milk a day in maximum, this may decrease to 200 g. However it is about 1kg for goat, but it still depends on the kid of goat: Barbel 800 g, Zana goat 3 or 4 kg depending on care.

While making cheese; pure milk, marine salt, natural yeast, that is, abomasum yeast is used. Abomasum yeast is a kind of yeast reproduced after taken from a part of fore stomach of a ewe or a calf which have not grassed. Milk is specially filtered and cleaned. It is heated to 32 – 34 degrees and thus fermented. When it becomes raw, called curd, it is begun to be broken into pieces. These pieces are pressurized with a press and divided into four pieces and left to be filtered and fermented on stainless benches. After fermentation, it is finely sliced just like slicing cured spiced beef. Afterwards, it is put into boiling baskets and submerged in water of 76 degrees and when it is set to bread paste, it is kneaded so as not to leave any grains behind. The foreman adds fine salt into this paste, then folds and kneads it. He puts into the bowl to shape it and passes it on his master. Cheese master breaks off on bloated sides after kneading. If the Kashar cheese does not become bloated, it is cracked. Kashar cheese waiting in the bowl for 24 hours is opened on the following day. It is made free of burrs, if any, and placed on a wooden bench in a dim room that is aired from an only side. If there is a double-side air circulation in the Kashar cheese room, there becomes crack. It is enabled to be scabbed after salting over it. And those scabs are polished and maintained every day. This salt does not penetrate into the cheese but serves to dry it. It absorbs the humidity inside the cheese and starts to make fungus. And funguses are cleaned with hot water and brush. Finally, it is vertically put to dry in a place called pergola and then packaged. Kashar cheese must wait for at least 60 days in the cold storage room with a humidity of 80-85% after packaging. Actually, it had to be 90 days but was drawn down by regulations. The longer Kashar cheese waits the more delicious it becomes. Thracian Kashar cheese is an 11 kilo-wheel with a thickness of 15 cm and a diameter of 30 cm.

None of these processes is seen in making of fresh cheese. For fresh cheese, milk is brought and fermented in the machine. Salt and several additives re included in it. It is rotated and put in molds and put up for sale. It is fabrication production realized by putting the cheese to a different process and incorporating many additives into it. Mr. Altan summarizes this process as follows: “Do you know what the fresh cheese you eat actually is? Eating tomorrow the fresh cheese made today.” I’d like to continue my essay with the conversation I made with him.

Well, do you eat fresh cheese?

Altan Gürel: Of course, I eat the one I make. Because I know what the others put in it: additives, gelatin and many others. We do not compete with them, of course. However, in big industrial production, it is not possible to use our method. First, it is impossible to find ewe milk sufficient to make that big production. Think of a big cheese producer. Let’s suppose a company buying 2-3 million kg milk a day could immediately earn one trillion if he sold it the following day. What if he waited for 2 months? He would make a loss of 90 trillion. Therefore they are daily cheeses. The same practice is seen in feta cheese, as well. Government imposes an obligation of making cheese wait in the cold storage room. If do not make it wait, humans may be contaminated by Brusella bacteria. But nobody complies with this rule. Why not? Because there are financial obligations and there is really a big competition in the market. Company would make a loss, how could it wait? So the producers like us cannot compete with them. Our prices are more expensive than theirs. For example, we pay 1.13 Liras for goat’s milk, 2 Liras for ewe2s milk and 80 Kuruş for cow’s milk.

How does the difference between goat’s, ewe’s and cow’s milk influence the making of cheese?

Altan Gürel: The fat ratio of cow’s milk is 3.5% and 3.6 is considered well. This nutritious fat ratio is between 4.5 – 6 in goat's milk; and between 7.5 and 10 in ewe’s milk that is close to human milk and has many solid matters. So it has a high level of efficiency and nutritious value. Cow’s milk is thinner. Because; if a cow gave milk less than 24-30 kg a day at one milking in a season, the company would make a loss. For this, the cow needs to be fed with artificial feeds in order to get that much milk. Otherwise, you would only get 10 kg milk. Since the company could not compensate the expenses of the animal, the cow would begin to be additive. It is not true for ewes; they are fed with solid feeds; for example, they eat coarsely ground wheat. Granulated feeds such as barleys, oats, corns, etc. are given to goats. Ewes grass in the meadow but are also fed. In summer, ewes are not fed much. But if you do not feed cows, you cannot get milk. For a dairy farm to be open for 12 months, it must only use cow’s milk. Production with ewe’s and goat's milk lasts only five months. A sheep dairy farm starts its activities in April and finishes in August. In the past, this period was called “ninety of summer”. But as the season when animals give milk has changed, this period is longer now.

Where does the hardness and softness of cheese result from?

Altan Gürel: Altan Gürel: The hardness of fresh cheese affects the seasons and weather conditions. Those called “Turkish delight-like” is softer. It is softer in the first months. If made when there is southwester or in hot months, it becomes pepper-like, that is hard. Southwester is bad for both animals and milk. It is called pepper because it leaves a somewhat bitter taste on the tongue by the end of bite. Once you taste it, you cannot leave it and are wrapped up in it and you always want to eat. It does not contain pepper in fact. “Peppered fresh cheese causes you to burn your fingers" is said here. The taste and quality is also affected by the period you make it wait on wooden benches. If you do not make it wait, then your cheese becomes second quality.

Is fresh cheese really the second quality product?

Altan Gürel: Altan Gürel: In our opinion, yes, it is the second quality product. As its profitability is high, unfortunately the production of fresh cheese increasingly grows. But they all contain additives. The production of cheese made from cow’s milk increasingly grows for the same reason. It is asserted that sheep cheese smells, but it does not smell in my opinion.

What about round sheep’s cheese (kaşkaval)?

Altan Gürel: Kaşkaval means Bulgarian fresh cheese, which has more fat. The method of making kaşkaval is different, by dry boiling. While making fresh cheese, you ferment ewe’s or cow’s milk, break the curds into pieces. Thus a yellow fluid emerges from it: sırvatka or whey. It is an oily fluid. We take out this fluid by the separator and the separator cancels out the crème, fat contained in this fluid. And we take this fluid into another boiler and boil it. It turns into quark cheese. The remaining fluid is used in making baby formula and sugar. Kaşkaval is composed by incorporating the crème derived from this whey in this process of cheese I explain. Therefore it contains more fat compared to Kashar cheese. Moreover, true butter can be made from this crème. And it is called sırvatka butter, fresh cheese butter. The pure raw material of butter is actually this crème derived from cheese. Kaşkaval is also made from the crème of milk but it is not known and requested much in Turkey. We say let’s give up instead of dealing with it.

They say “Do not give up Kaşkaval. There are very few people still producing it in Turkey. Is it hard to produce?

Altan Gürel: No, it is not. But there is no demand even though we sell it cheaper. One of my customers came and I made a more reasonable offer than fresh cheese to make him buy. He said some of them were yellow, some was fat and some was not porous.

Ecevitler, Seller, Kadıköy, Istanbul

We made a conversation with cheese seller Mehmet Ecevit, who is the owner of Ecevitler Shop in Kadıköy, on consumer habits and differences of Kashar and fresh cheeses.

What about the sales of Kashar cheese? Who buys them the most?

Mehmet Ecevit: Old generation knows about Kashar cheese. New generation only knows about fresh cheese which is the unhealthiest one in fact. Nutritional habits of new generation are different. Fresh cheese is unhealthy because it is not made wait and the brackish water contained in it is not filtered. Kashar cheese does not cause discomfort in stomach but fresh cheese does so. Above all, if you have a stomach problem, it may even create heartburn. Fresh cheese contain additives, Kashar cheese does not. In Thrace, fresh cheese is with Turkish delight and pepper. There is also Anatolian fresh cheese: from Muş, Kars and Bingöl. Anatolian fresh cheese is sold cheaper.

Old people say that they did not have fresh cheese before, it emerged after.

Mehmet Ecevit: Yes, fresh cheese was not used to be sold much. Fresh cheese made from cow’s milk has been available for about 15 years. Cheese from sheep’s milk becomes eatable after 1 and half years because that mil does not spoil. As the lifetime of cow’s milk varies between three and six months, cheese from it spoils fast and molds. The mold of it is not eaten because it smells bad. Wrap Kashar cheese in an oily paper, put into the refrigerator and it is dried at most. It is generally eaten up before drying. You should not buy cheap cheese. The kilo of high quality fresh cheese is 18-20 TL. The wholesale price of Kashar cheese is 25-26 TL. Just think of it.

What cheese do you buy?

Mehmet Ecevit: I have been in this business since I was 12, so I know what is what. I always buy Kashar cheese and I prefer sheep cheese as feta cheese.

Bandırma Farm, Seller, Ortaköy, Istanbul

Sami Varlı, the owner of Bandırma Farm in Ortaköy told how cow’s or sheep’s milk affect cheeses.

Is it true that the demand for cow cheeses has increased?

Sami Varlı: There is a public belief that cheese should be white for some reason. In fact, the color of milk is greenish yellow in spring. It results from the grasses sheep eat. The reason why the cheese made in spring is more delicious is the green flora and the mother’s milk of the animal breeding in this period. Just as lamb is not good in December or January and is called yearling lamb, it is true for this milk, too. Production was used to be made in spring and afterwards, the dairy farms were used to close. However since we now have huge population, we import animals from abroad and thus production has been grown. Therefore cow’s milk has been increased. Since major cheese producers in Turkey began to make their cheese from cow milk which was more, they created a speculation that sheep milk smells. In fact, it is not even close.

Is cow’s milk preferred because it is cheaper?

Sami Varlı: No, it is not only because of its price but also because of that uniform and mass production is demanded. If a big company came to Thrace, it would not leave any sheep milk, if it wanted to do so. But as sheep milk would not be sufficient for such a big company, it does not demand sheep milk.

Cheese is a fermentation thing. Cheese needs to ne matured. That’s why fresh cheese is unfavorable. Cheese does not grow without fermentation. When you buy low-fat or fat-free cheese as cultivated cheese at the markets, do you think you eat real cheese? The production date of them is almost the same date you buy them. It is not matured; you may get poisoned from fresh cheese.

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