Küflü Katık Peyniri
Blue katık cheese is a traditional product from Bükdere, a village in Balıkesir Province, northwestern Turkey. The Turkish name for this cheese is küflü katık peyniri: Küflü means “moldy,” peyniri means “cheese,” and katık refers to foods eaten with bread (olives, cheeses, relishes and other condiments), as well as to a specific dairy product similar to yogurt or ayran, but with a thicker consistency.
Balıkesir is known for the quality and diversity of its cheeses, and this is due in large part to the presence of Yörük peoples, the pastoralists of Anatolia. Bükdere village is in a forested area of the Kepsut district of Balıkesir Province, and its inhabitants, many of whom make their living from dairy production, mostly belong to the Kubaş tribe of Yörüks. Blue katık cheese is a specialty of Bükdere, made by maturing katık in a goatskin sack. The genre of cheeses matured in skin sacks is called tulum, and blue katık is one of Turkey’s finest tulum cheeses. In this case, the katık is made from goat’s milk. After coagulating, the katık is salted and then hung in a cotton bag for 2-3 days to drain and ripen. Next, it is salted again and then packed tightly into the goatskin sack. The preparation of these sacks requires as much care, skill, and knowledge as the production of the cheese: The skin must be carefully scraped on both sides, making sure that there are no holes, and then washed, salted, and dried. Next, the dried skin is soaked in boiling water with bark from the oak species Quercus ithaburensis, which eliminates the animal smell. Finally, after drying once more, the skin is sewn to make a bag.
When the salted katık is packed into the goatskin, there must be no air pockets, and the cheesemakers have developed a special technique for getting all of the air out: They press the cheese-filled sacks between flat stones, placing oak branches (this time from the species Quercus infectoria) between the stone and the sack. In this way, the weight of the stones squeezes any remaining air and moisture out of the sack, and the branches allow air to pass freely over the skin, which must be regularly wiped with cotton cloth to remove the moisture that has seeped out. The sacks of cheese are kept in cool pantries for the duration of the maturation process, which lasts about 9 months, until veins of blue mold form naturally in the cheese. As is matures, the cheese acquires a strong aroma and sour flavor. It is used to enhance the flavor of pastas or soups, and can also be eaten with bread or börek pastries.
Blue katık cheese is at risk of extinction; it is produced in extremely limited quantities by some of the women in Bükdere village.