Most visitors to Turkey are familiar with the two most common Turkish cheeses: creamy, sweet, full-fat beyaz peynir (white sheep's milk cheese, like Greek feta), and yellow kaşar peynir ("kosher" cheese, like Greek kasseri), served young and sweet or aged and tangy.
But Anatolia is one of the oldest lands in the world. For millennia, its peoples have milked livestock and made cheese in their villages. There it was aged, eaten, enjoyed.
Each village or region has its own way of making cheese from the richness of the land. There its particular cheese stayed, a local curiosity and delicacy.
Today Turkey's cheese-making villages are being discovered by gourmets both Turkish and foreign, and their artisanal delicacies are coming out of the villages and making their way into city shops and markets.
In the forefront of Turkish cheese gourmets are Istanbullus Ms Berrin Bal Onur and Ms Neşe Biber. They've traveled to the villages, met the cows, sheep and goats, watched the cheeses being made, peered into the aging caves, and tasted, tasted, tasted:
—Tulum cheeses cured in cloth or kidskin sacks
—Kars Cheese, from near the Armenian border, similar to Gruyère and Emmenthal
—Kaskaval, a sheep-and-cow's-milk blended Balkan cheese perfect for grilling
—Konya Mold Cheese, sheep's milk, strong, Turkey's answer to Rocquefort
—String Cheese, from eastern Anatolia, looking just like coarse twine until softened in water
—Circassian Cheese, smoked and elaborated with walnuts, pepper, olives or local herbs
—Edremit Basket Cheese, a blend of goat, sheep and cow's milk, accented with olives, nuts or peppers and shaped into knitted "baskets"
—Herbed Van Cheese, from the shores of Lake Van in eastern Turkey, with a herbal content approaching 15%.
Dozens of these artisanal cheeses are available at Antre Gourmet (Akarsu Caddesi No: 40/A; map), their gourmet food shop in Istanbul's Cihangir neighborhood of Beyoğlu. They also supply Istanbul's luxury hotels with supplies for their Turkish wine-and-cheese tastings.
Ms Onur and Ms Biber are preparing a definitive book on Turkish artisanal cheeses, and have produced a short introductory video as well.
No excuse for thinking Turkish cheese is just simple white and yellow anymore. There's lots more to discover.
Want to spend some time in Cihangir? Ms Berrin Bal Onur has a sweet little apartment/flat for rent right in the heart of the Çukurcuma antique shops district. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan