Aged Kars Kashar Cheese
Milk and milk products - Turkey
Kars Kashar cheese is a traditional hard cheese that is produced and consumed widely in northeastern Turkey. Kasar came to city of Kars with immigration from the Balkans in the 1920s. Cow and sheep's milk are used in a ratio of about 90% cow's milk to 10% sheep's milk. In the past this ratio was closer to 60% cow milk and 40% sheep milk, but has lessened with the decrease in the sheep population. Local breeds used include East Anatolian Red, Anatolian Black and Zavot cattle, and Karaman and Tuj sheep. The production takes place during April, May, June and July, when the animals feed on pastures with an altitude of 1800 - 2000 m above sea level. In this area, there are 3000 mountain plants whose aroma is reflected in the milk and cheese, giving Kars Kasar its unique characteristics. Animals are milked twice a day, and after milking, the milk is poured into tanks where natural yeast (?irdan) is added. After it coagulates, curds are broken, transferred into large cotton cloths and pressed. After 3 - 4 hours, the press is released and cheese rests at room temperature for 24 - 36 hours for pre-ripening. Then, the cheese is cut into small pieces, pressed again (to release bitter whey) and boiled in iron boilers. Then it is kneaded, sea salt is added, and the cheese is transferred into forms weighing about 13 kg each. Cheeses stay 24 hours in the form, and then are removed to rest for 48 hours at room temperature. After, cheese is transferred to the salting room for second pre-ripening of 45 - 60 days, during which they are salted once a week. After 60 days, they are washed with water or whey and left to stay under sun and wind for 5 - 6 hours. Finally, the cheeses are put in hemp bags and sent to cold storage for aging of six months to one year. Cheese aged up to 6 months has a milky and mild taste, but more aged Kars Kasar develops a strong, tannic taste. After 1 year, its taste becomes peppery and quite strong. It is dark yellow, with a hard rind that thickens with maturation. Today there are 76 Kashar producers in Kars, but only 18 use traditional methods. New hygiene rules imposed by the European Union, an increase in industrial production techniques and the decline of native cow and sheep breeds threaten the future of this cheese.