Divle cave cheese from comes from the village of Divle, also known by the new name of Ucharman, located in the Ayrancı province of Karaman in southern central Turkey.
It is a tulum, or skin bag cheese, known by its red sheep or goatskin sack.
Depending on the producer, the sizes of sacks may vary; the smallest ones can hold 4 – 5 kg while the biggest ones can hold 25 – 30 kg. Milk from pastured sheep and goats is used. In the past, the milk of Karaman sheep was used for production; however pure Karaman milk is less available as the breed’s population has decreased dramatically.
Cheese production begins from April through early May. Calf rennet is added to lukewarm milk, and the resulting cheese is placed into bags to dry for two days. Then, it is cut into thick slices and soaked in water for one day, to remove any bitter liquids.
The cheese is then scrubbed, salted and pressed into clean sheep or goat skin.
Cheeses pressed into skin bags are stored at 4°C in a hole 256 m long and 36 m deep starting from May or June until the end of October. This cave can store 70 tons of cheese per year. The cave is owned by the Ayrancı municipality, but managed by Divle village. Producers outside the village pay a rent to Divle for its use.
During the aging period, the skin first turns a bluish color, then a white mold covers the surface of the hide and finally the surface turns red with due to the effects of the local bacteria. The interior of the fully aged cheese is white or pale yellow. Locals eat it usually for breakfast with a thin bread or serve it with fruits.
Today, the number of shepherds and cheesemakers in the area is lower, with migration to urban areas. Many producers prefer to sell their milk to large dairy companies instead of making their own cheese. The lack of a clearly defined production standard has been a roadblock in getting EU funds to support the continuation of this practice. Cheeses made in familial settings are sold personally by the cheesemakers, and there are three small-scale dairies that currently have production licenses to make Divle cave cheese. With the revival of interest in this product, though, some producers have begun to sell cheeses with the name of Divle cave cheese, even though they do not use local milk or cave-age their cheeses.
Photos — Ivo Danchev