Çökelek is a type of cheese made from yogurt in various parts of Turkey. This post will introduce the çökelek that is unique to the Hatay/Antakya (Antiochia) region in Southern Turkey on the Mediterranean. It is usually served at breakfast with a drizzle of olive oil or as a major ingredient in böreks (stuffed phyllo dough with meat or vegetables or cheese). Before the seasonings are added, it looks like cottage cheese.
I prefer to make yogurt (see my recipe) at home as I think there is a world of difference in taste when compared to mass produced commercial yogurt. One of those days my yogurt did not set, meaning the result was not yogurt but a mixture of milk and yogurt. When this occurred, I usually threw it away. I happened to speak to my mom that day and mentioned to her how my yogurt did not turn out right. She immediately suggested that I could make çökelek with it. I had never tried to make çökelek since I thought it was a labor intensive process and needs patience. One of my pet peeves is wasting food and I was not going to throw a whole gallon of half milk-half yogurt away. So, I followed her directions of boiling the half milk-half yogurt and draining the water. It is supposed to be drained in a cheese cloth for one day, but I did not have the patience, so I only drained it for one hour. After spicing it up, you are supposed to also dry the balls under the sun. Well, I did not do that either. They turned out quite good anyway.
I am a big fan of börek with çökelek. My husband loves çökelek for breakfast but I prefer it in böreks which goes perfectly with a cup of hot Turkish tea. In fact, I have that börek with çökelek recipe ready to be posted on my blog for so many months now, but I did not post it before posting the çökelek recipe itself. It wouldn’t be possible for people who are not familiar with çökelek to make börek with it as you cannot find this here in the States.
This time while making çökelek, I tried to follow the proper way and did drain the cheese for one day and waited a few days for it to dry even though traditionally, it should dry for months under the sun. It tastes great anyway. My next post will be the börek with çökelek recipe that has been waiting to be posted for months!
2 gallons milk or yogurt
1/3 cup yogurt (not necessary if making with yogurt)
2 tbsp red pepper paste
2-3 tbsp thyme
Salt (adjust to your taste)
If you choose to make this with milk, add the yogurt and bring to a boil on medium heat. If you make it with yogurt, just boil the yogurt on medium heat. When the milk-yogurt mixture or the yogurt boils, it will form into cheese curds and whey (the left over thin liquid after the cheese curds separate from milk or yogurt). The cheese curds will separate from whey. Drain this mixture and use the cheese curds in this recipe. I throw away the whey, however I think it contains great amounts of vitamins, proteins and minerals. I feel bad throwing it away, but I have not figured a way to use it in my cooking yet. Place a large cheese cloth in a colander and drain the small forms of cheese that is acquired from boiling the yogurt or the milk-yogurt mixture.
Cool for an hour since it will be too hot to handle. Gather the cheese cloth from all sides and tie on the top keeping the cheese inside. Try to squeeze as much as water as you can. Hang the cloth for one day as shown in the picture on the cupboard or somewhere where it can get rid of its juices. I hanged it on the handle of a cupboard and placed a large plate with paper towel in it underneath so that any water that may drip will drip on the plate without splashing around my kitchen.
When the cheese is drained after a day, place in a large bowl and add the red pepper paste, thyme and salt. Knead for a half hour or through a kitchen mixer until all the ingredients are integrated and smooth. With your hand, start creating small balls from the mixture twice as large as an egg. Place in a tray, cover with cheese cloth or any other thin cloth to protect from dust and let dry under sun for a few days until it accumulates mold on it. Do not be surprised when it becomes stinky as it is the case for moldy cheeses.
The proper way to do this is to age this cheese for months and months, but I am inpatient; I want it now. So, for me 1-3 days is more enough and most of the time I do not even dry it. Plus, I prefer çökelek when it’s fresh, before it is dried. Enjoy çökelek in breakfast with a drizzle of olive oil or in böreks which is my favorite. If you create moldy çökelek, before serving it, make sure to shave off the mold.