/Making Kaşar in Kars

Making Kaşar in Kars

kasar kars

By noon, I was drenched in whey, caked in cow shit and my left hand itched. It was pretty much the best day ever. It started in the workshop of a small kaşar producer near Kars, where cow’s milk curds are melted and worked by hand into this traditional Anatolian cheese. The visit was part of a full immersion into Kars’ food culture organized by İlhan Koçulu for Şemsa and the Kantin crew (you can read about our earlier experiences in the grain fields here). I was lucky enough to tag along.

We arrived at the workshop, positioned our hairnets and entered the workspace where we watched the kaşar-making process, which necessitates a minimum of two people. Ilhan Bey and the Usta (cheese making master) narrated the sequence of events, illustrated below. The assembly line was supremely efficient. As a batch of melted curds emerged from a barrel of steaming water, the Usta folded and fashioned the cheese into its desired shape. As he set the cheese to settle, another batch awaited him.

I was invited to try my luck at kaşar molding. The malleable wad of cheese was poured onto the broad wooden work surface. The Usta showed me a few moves, then stepped out of the way and gestured for me to try. I began massaging the amorphous blob, folding it over itself awkwardly. The cheese surface was burning hot to the touch, so my attempts to mold the dough were stunted by my inability to actually keep contact with it. Somehow I manhandled the first blob into an irregular pile, which elicited a disapproving glare from the Usta.

kasar 2

He finished the batch and when he was done, a second steaming mass was poured onto the table. His frown disappeared as he took my left hand in his own gloved palm and pressed it hard into the molten cheese. For 4..5…6 seconds I stood entranced and whimpering. After 10 seconds of sheer agony, I was allowed to pull my hand away. The Usta peeled off his gloves and apron, presented them to me then backed away.

The endorphins from this weird hazing began to take effect. Standing on my toes to leverage my body weight, I folded, kneaded and formed the cheese as the Usta had demonstrated, pouring the still hot mass into stainless steel forms where it would cool and settle before moving to the aging rooms. As I was watching my third cheese settle in its round form, I was summoned to the outer courtyard by team Kantin. My career as a cheese maker had ended before it had begun but the memory of the experience and the associated pain and pleasure linger still.

curd cutting

Kars’ kaşar production takes around 90 days, from milking to maturation and begins with filtering and purifying the cow’s milk, then fermenting and cutting the curds. The curds are strained, left to settle, then sliced.

kasar cut curds

The sliced and shredded curds are placed in a stainless steal container, which is then placed in 80C water to be stirred and stretched and melted.

kasar heat

kasar 1

kasar knead 1kasar knead 2kasar knead 3kasar knead 4

Next is the kneading process, a supremely physical act. Once sufficiently worked, the cheese is placed in a stainless steel bucket the volume of the desired finished produce. Any excess bits are pinched and twisted off.

kasar cheese pinch

kasar usta

The cheese is poured into the mold to cool and settle.

kasar pour

kasar settling2

kasar forms

Each form has a piece for imprinting the brand.

kasar shop 3

After 60-90 days the cheese is ready to be eaten and sold.

kasar shop 1

kasar shop 2

2017-02-17T15:16:41+00:00 August 16th, 2013|Categories: Culture, Food & Wine, Gastronomic Traditions, Travel, Turkish Cuisine|11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Hande August 16, 2013 at 8:26 am - Reply

    And i am eating a slice as i read, am afraid not the one you made – wonder who will get that especially good one. I have three questions:
    Is the milk raw or pasteurized?
    What kind of rennet do they use?
    How (any washes etc for the rind?) and where (cellar? cave? hall?) is the aging process?

  2. Vittorio Rusinà August 16, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Post da urlo come quello precedente sul grano, questa tua dedizione al mondo agricolo e artigianale e la tua voglia di condividerla on the web è da lode.
    Mi colpisce la parola kasar, credo molto antica, da cui forse deriva il termine italiano “casaro”.
    Spero di poter assaggiare questo formaggio a Cheese2013 tu hai notizie sulla possibilità di trovarlo in Italia?

  3. Emre August 16, 2013 at 10:58 am - Reply

    Is it Eski Kasar now? Or need more time to be Eski Kasar.

  4. Luigi Fracchia August 16, 2013 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Questo post, questa tecnica di filatura della pasta mi ricorda:
    http://gliamicidelbar.blogspot.it/search?q=ragusano+dop
    così vicini così lontani.
    Katie i tuoi post sono ogni volta più interessanti, complimenti.
    Luigi

  5. Hande August 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Per lettori italiani: in turchia c’è anche un formaggio tradizionale chiamato “kaskaval”, pronunciato quasi esattamente come cacciocavallo, solo senza le “o”.

  6. […] to eat and to feel lost in a familiar place. A recent trip to Kars to discover heirloom grains and study cheese production was particularly stimulating to the point of being downright […]

  7. Gokhan August 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    thanks for such a captivating and enlightening post. I’ll be in Istanbul next week, where can this be found in Istanbul?

  8. Katie August 22, 2013 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    @gokhan! you can have kars kasari tost at kantin dukkan in bebek and the cheese itself is sold in kantin’s nisantasi location. afiyet olsun!

  9. Aida Spencer October 31, 2013 at 11:08 am - Reply

    I just found out that, Kars’ kaşar production takes around 90 days. It is very long process. Thank for sharing with us.

  10. Cheese Crazy April 11, 2014 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great article with step-by-step photos, which were fantastic. I’ll certainly look for this brand.

    I came across your page while searching for the meaning of Kasar. I’ve asked to my Turkish friends but no one seems to know. I assume that it comes from the Greek word, Kasseri. What’s your thought?

    Thank you

Leave A Comment