Red Tort Cheese

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Kızıl Tort Peyniri

Red tort is a distinctive cheese that originated among the pastoral communities of the Taurus Mountains, which span Turkey’s Mediterranean Region. Families in this region traditionally kept sheep and goats, which they took from the plains to the high pastures each spring. Red tort cheese is made from goat’s milk; the goats give birth in March, and by May the kids are finished nursing, so the milk produced during the rest of the lactation period (the summer and fall) can be used to make cheese and other dairy products. Some cheese is for immediate consumption within the families, some is exchanged with agriculturalists for items such as wheat, and some is kept for the following winter, when fresh cheese cannot be made.

The Turkish name for red tort cheese is kızıl tort peyniri, which literally means “red residue cheese.” The name derives from the use of whey in the production process. First, the fresh goat’s milk is made into a thick yogurt, which is allowed to rest until the whey rises and can be separated from the more solid part. Then the whey is collected and boiled in a cauldron for about 8 hours, until it reduces down to curds with a reddish-brown color (hence the name of the final product), which are then put on a tray and dried outdoors in the sun. These curds are called red tort, but the process is not finished yet. The next step is to make çökelek from the yogurt. Çökelek is a typical Turkish cottage cheese made by heating either yogurt or acidified milk. As the yogurt heats, it begins to curdle, and the curds are strained in a basket lined with cloth, yielding çökelek. The çökelek is then combined with the red tort, and this mixture is kneaded like a dough. The final step is to pack the curds into a container, cover them with wheat bran, and then age the cheese in a cool place. This can be done in the refrigerator, but the traditional method was to use earthenware vessel, which was closed with a wooden lid and then buried in the ground for 2 months. The resulting red tort was traditionally eaten during the fall and winter, or sold to villagers as the herders moved their flocks back to the lowlands. This cheese is perfect for the preparation of sıkma, and type of stuffed, rolled flatbread.

Despite being one of the most valuable cheeses from the Taurus Mountains, red tort is hardly made anymore, especially with the traditional methods, because people find the process too time consuming. Members of the younger generation are generally unfamiliar with this product.

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