From a humble breakfast to the most sumptuous feast, cheese and its delights never fail to grace the table. And it was discovered purely by accident...

There are in this world certain foods and beverages that constitute milestones. Treats that have graced the table since the day they were first discovered, and clearly always will. Foodstuffs, most of which served only to satisfy the need to eat at the dawn of history, developed over time, until today they are sought-after tastes to please the palate.

 ‘Fromage’ to the French, ‘formaggio’ to the Italians, ‘queso’ to the Spanish, ‘kase’ to the Germans, ‘sir’ to the Russians and Bosnians, ‘penir’ to the Iranians, ‘paneer’ to the Indians, ‘cebn’ or cübn’ to the Arabs, ‘tiri’ to the Greeks and ‘ağrımşık, ‘akerişimik', ‘soğut, ‘bışlak’ or ‘irimçik to the ancient Turks, cheese today continues to be a staple food item as it has been since time immemorial.  The history of cheese goes back so far that nothing is known for certain about how or when it was first produced. There are only conjectures based on assumptions.

Scholars tell us that the first references to cheese are found in works from the Sumerian civilization. Nevertheless, the origin of cheese, its discovery in other words, is assumed to date back even earlier. Before humans made the transition to a sedentary lifestyle, their most importance source of food was hunting and gathering. It was during this time that they began to domesticate animals. It was discovered that domesticated animals were useful not only for their meat, but also for their milk and their skins. Realizing that certain animals could be milked and the ensuing product used as a source of nutrition, men began to seek ways of preserving that milk for longer periods. Or, perhaps they didn’t consciously think about it but were helped along by a series of serendipitous coincidences. The fermentation of milk through contact with the air resulted in cheese and yoghurt.

According to scholars, cheese was not the outcome of a conscious effort on man’s part but rather the culmination of a chain of coincidences. Based on this admittedly unproved hypothesis, human beings in the earliest periods used not containers but rather animal skins or stomachs for storing and transporting liquids. When milk, too, was stored probably in the four-part stomach of a ruminant animal such as a sheep or goat, a coagulating enzyme present in the fourth or ‘rennet stomach’ caused the milk to solidify, thus giving rise to the first, albeit slightly runny, cheese in history.

Known in those days as ‘white meat', cheese was a particularly nutritious and tasty foodstuff. What’s more, cheese could be stored for long periods and consumed anywhere, with the result that it became a popular menu item at meals from the most humble breakfast to the most sumptuous feast.

In our world of rapid technological development, cheese production has changed considerably. In a few places, however, exceptionally flavorful cheeses continue to be made in the traditional way, in Turkey, for example, in goatskins, or in tiny earthenware pots or gauze bags. Unfortunately, very special and time-honored cheeses such as ‘Ayvalık basket cheese’ are falling slowly into oblivion in the face of the new production technology. Formerly produced in woven baskets with a double serpent’s head, Ayvalık basket cheese is produced today in plastic pots. Due to the basket’s woven texture, the traditionally produced cheese took longer to drain and to mature, a process that enhanced its special flavor. Capturing the same flavor by the new production methods is  almost impossible. The truth is however that the long-standing traditional techniques of cheese production to which early peoples devoted years of toil to make quality and tasty cheeses should be continued and supported today. I would therefore like to express my infinite gratitude to Turkey’s own scholar of cheese and cheese making, Artun Ünsal, for his immortal work on the subject, ‘When Milk Sleeps'.

800 gr ‘labne’ (Turkish cream cheese)
500 gr cream
250 gr granulated sugar
50 gr sheet of leaf gelatin
100 gr butter
2 packages of ‘Burçak’ (Petit Beurre) biscuits, crushed
grated rind and juice of one lemon
For the topping:
1 kg fresh raspberries

To prepare the crust, first melt the butter in a pot. Add the biscuits and mix well. Arrange on a cookie sheet. Press down well with a spoon and crimp the edges. Whip the cream with an electric mixer and add the cheese and sugar. Mix again for 3-4 minutes. Soften the leaf gelatin for 20 minutes in lukewarm water. When soft, add the grated lemon and lemon juice to the cheese-cream mixture and spread over the crust. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes until set. Top with raspberries or other fruit before serving.

Cheese-stuffed calamari
4 fresh calamari, cleaned
200 gr feta cheese
4 sun-dried tomatoes
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Pick over and clean the calamari. Dice the cheese. Let the dried tomatoes stand in water for 4-5 minutes. Dip the cheese in the thyme leaves and stuff the calamari with it. Close each calamari with a piece of dried tomato, fasten with a toothpick and grill for about 10 minutes. Cut each one in half and remove to a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil.

Cheese with tomatoes and basil
250 gr ‘tulum’ cheese
2 medium tomatoes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bunch fresh basil

Cut the cheese and tomatoes in thin slices. Place one slice of tomato between every three slices of cheese, add the basil leaves and arrange on a serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Grilled ‘hellim’ cheese
500 gr Hellim cheese
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
10 cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp sour pomegranate syrup

Let the Hellim cheese stand briefly in water to remove the salt. Cut into finger-size slices. Drizzle with olive oil and grill. Alternatively, you may brown it in a skillet. Roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven and arrange around the cheese on a serving plate. Drizzle with sour pomegranate syrup to taste.

Cheese halva
1300 gr full-fat feta cheese
200 gr granulated sugar
100 gr flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp powdered sugar

Let the cheese stand in water to remove the salt, then place in a pot. Add the sugar and flour and mix for 10-12 minutes. When the mixture forms a ball, remove from the fire. Place on a greased baking sheet and spread flat with your fingers. Cook at 150 degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar and serve warm.