Kurut: Dried yogurt as the ever preservable cheese

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Cheese has been around for literally millennia and has an essential place in our everyday cuisine, be it on a pizza you’ll enjoy after a hard day of work or for breakfast in its many exciting forms. But not all cheeses are made directly from milk to its cheesy form. Some are made from yogurt, which brings us to Kurut.

What is Kurut?

Kurut is essentially made from yogurt that has been dried, sometimes with the addition of salt to make it more preservable. It is shaped in many different forms and is usually eaten by the introduction of water to make ayran out of it or meals such as the aptly named “Kurut Aşı”.

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The origins

If one wants to look at the origins of Kurut, one has to have a look at its main ingredient, yogurt, first. The making of yogurt was essential for the nomadic people of the Middle East, Turks in particular, that travelled with their cattle. Milk spoils easily and it is said that the milk was carried in animal stomachs, which brought the milk in contact with digestive fluids, curdling and souring it but making it thus preservable. (1)

Although modern yogurt stays preserved for long periods compared to the short time milk does, it still can go bad quickly. The people of the steppes would not want waste hours of their labor to just throw the produce away, so they strained their yogurt and let it dry out in the sun. The cheapest and frankly easiest way to get every last bit of humidity out. One of the earliest written records of cheese being made in this manner was by the 9th century Persian Islamic scholar Ibn Qutaybah, saying that Turks were making cheese not only from milk but Qutaybah wasn’t quite sure if they made it from buttermilk or yogurt. He also stated that they called it “Kurut”. (2)

Thanks to its very tough nature, as long as it stays dry that is, Kurut was an essential part in the meals that soldier would eat in the Middle Ages. Be it as a refreshing drink or as a soup, providing calcium and strengthening the troops. (3)

Preservable foods have always been something that humans have strived for, for sheer survival purposes, of course. So, it was only natural that this tough cheese made the rounds in the region and has survived for this long. In modern Turkey, Kurut is still used in the eastern Anatolian regions, most frequently though in Van, thanks to the pastoral way of life. Half of Van’s population live in rural areas to this day. (4) Many of their regional dishes are made with this very cheese, some of which are Keledoş, Sengeser and Kürt Köftesi.

When this cheese was a more integral part of the cuisines in Turkey, every home used to have a special mortar and pestle, which was called “tepir” (the wooden version at the very least), to break the Kurut down more easily. This traditional way of crumbling the cheese is still alive in Kyrgyzstan, Tatarstan and other Turkic countries. (2)

 

Etymology

The word “Kurut” comes from the Turkish “kurutmak” literally meaning to “dry”, which was recorded as such in the 8th century by Ibn Qutaybah.  It is said that the Turks took the word over from the Mongolians. Kurut is but one name this cheese is known as in the whole region though. In Iran it is known as “Kashk”, “Kisk” in Lebanon, “Jub-Jub” in Syria and “Kusuk” in Iraq. While it is only natural that different countries have a variety of names for the cheese, there are even different ways that people in Turkey refer it to. In the western province Bolu it is called “keş”, in Bingol “keşk” and some other variations, in Mardin it is called “çortan”. (2) The “çortan” version is likely stemming from the Armenian version of the same cheese.

 

Kurut: Dried yogurt as the ever preservable cheese

Making your own cheese the way the nomadic people used to do and still do to this day is quite simple if you have the patience for it. If you like to make everything from scratch refer to our yogurt piece, where the making of the refreshing dish is explained in detail.

Ingredients

  • yogurt
  • salt

Instructions

  • No exact measurements were provided here as it is entirely up to your taste.
  • About 10-15 kilograms of yogurt can make 1 kilogram of Kurut, so if you want to experiment with it, it would be advisable to start with a much smaller amount of yogurt.
  • First, strain the yogurt of as much excess water as possible. So, having it hang in a cheesecloth to let the excess fluids drip off will save you some time.
  • Once that has been done, spread the yogurt on a baking tin and sprinkle some salt over it.
  • Mix it well and if the consistency is thick enough, form the yogurt into walnut-sized balls.
  • If it is still too liquid, let it dry for a day in the sun but have a kitchen cloth over it to prevent any accidents.
  • Once the balls have been formed let it dry out in as much sun as can be provided.
  • It is important here that these balls are shifted and turned upside down so that the cheese can dry out from all sides.
  • After it has dried out completely, you’ll feel how hard it has become, you should store them in a dry and cool place.

Notes

Bibliography
(1) H. McGee, “Fresh fermented milks and creams” in “Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”, eds. Dorfman, P; J Greene; A McGee,New York: Scribner, 2004.
(2) Ayla Ünver Alçay, “Kurut ve Türk Mutfağında Kullanımı” in “Aydın Gastronomy, 1 (2):31-39”, 2017
(3) Özgür Kızıldemir, Emrah Öztürk, Mehmet Sarıışık, “Türk mutfak kültürünün tarihsel gelişiminde yaşanan değişimler” in “AİBÜ Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, 2014, Cilt:14, Yıl:14, Sayı:3, 14: 191-210”, 2014
(4) Hasan Köşker, Sıla Karacaoğlu, “Turizmde Yerel Yiyeceklerin Önemi ve Coğrafi İşaretleme: Van Otlu Peyniri”, 2014
Course: Appetizer
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