Divle Cave-Aged Cheese
Milk and milk products - Turkey
We’re in Central Turkey, along the road that leads from Karaman to Eregli; the Mediterranean is not far to the south, but the sea can only be reached by crossing the high Taurus Mountains, which remain covered in snow well into summer. The plateau here is a sun-baked semi-arid steppe, extending seemingly without end. The Turks have a special term for the barren landscape of Anatolia: bozkir, translated approximately as “yellow pasture,” for thousands of years the undisputed realm of nomadic herders and their livestock. In this nomadic culture, sheep and goat skins are seen as the best containers for preserving cheese, producing tulum, or cheese in a sack. Found in many forms across the vast plateaus of Anatolia, the tradition of cheese in a sack has even spread across the Bosphorous, reaching as far as Bosnia. In Divle, a village of 300 inhabitants in a lush canyon, they make a very special kind of tulum. Here, all the cheeses are aged, sheltered from the summer heat, in a single cave at the edge of the village. The cave looks like a narrow crack in the mountain: 40 meters deep, a few meters wide and over 150 meters long, it is accessed via a small single-seater elevator, whose keys are jealously guarded by the üçharman, the village chief. Down in the cave, resting on wide pine-wood shelves, the locally produced tulum are aging. Over time, they become covered in molds from the roqueforti strain, which gives the sacks a characteristic purplish color. All of Divle’s inhabitants participate in the cheese production process. Milk from Akkaraman and Morkaraman sheep and a smaller percentage of goat’s milk are mixed with rennet while still at milking temperature and left to rest for around three hours. The curd is then heated to 65°C. Excess water is removed by pressing under large rocks, then the curd is wrapped in a cloth and hung up overnight. The next day, the cheese is cut into thin slices, washed in cold water, crumbled by hand, salted and then packed into the skin sacks. The sacks have previously been prepared with a complex process of repeated washing, salting and drying that lasts at least a year. Only now are the tulum transferred to the cave, where they age for between 4 and 12 months before being sold. When the sack turns its characteristic purplish color, the cheese is ripe and ready to be eaten. The final result is a cheese with aromas ranging from pasture grass to more animal notes. On the palate, it has a pleasant finish, becoming sharper the longer it ages. Today, this complex product is facing an increasingly uncertain future.
In a world where food-safety regulations are increasingly designed to suit big businesses, explaining that a cheese aged in a natural cave and wrapped in animal skins is not only good, but able to stand up to the challenges of modernity, represents a challenge. To overcome it, Slow Food is working with the two producers who are currently registered to draw up a production protocol that will certify and protect the cheese’s quality.
At the same time, the project also wants to focus on boosting local and national sales, in the hope that other producers will also join the project, registering their dairies and coming out of the black market.
The long-term objective is to register Divle’s cave-aged cheese as a traditional product and protect its name, which is currently being exploited by industrial dairies who make cheeses that have none of the complexity and quality of artisanal Divle cheese.
Divle and eight other villages in the Karaman district, Central Anatolia
Ibrahim Bulent Bayrak