November 30, 2023

By Ismail Veli……….

Its unimaginable to travel to any country across the globe and not find cheese or yogurt. These two dairy products have become part of the human diet and their popularity goes without saying. But there Yogurt and cheesewas a time when these popular products were simply not even known. Naturally for that we need to go back at least thousands of years.

The first known origin of the cheese is believed to have been used by Sumerian herdsmen about 6000 years ago in 4000 BC. As many Central Asian tribesman were nomadic, the ownership of animals  provided plenty of milk to supplement their diet. They often stored it in the dried calf stomachs which then began to curdle in the natural enzyme of rennin left in the calf’s  stomach turning it into a form of soft cheese or yogurt.

The word Yogurt or “yoğurt” is Turkish in origin and belongs to the verb yoğurtmak”, which means “to blend.” Most historical accounts show that the practice of making cheese and yogurt slowly spread into Persia onto Anatolia and the Balkans. Being constantly on the move the nomadic warriors of Eurasia mostly the Turkic and Mongol people owned an immense number of animals from which they maintained their diet while crossing thousands of miles across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Being nomads they simply lived off their animals and on the land wherever they went.

Turkish Horsemen painted by Ahmet Abdulaziz

Their immense mobility gave them a massive advantage against whoever they faced in battle. But very often these conquests cloud some of the positives they also left behind. In addition to the Yogurt and cheese, kebabs, small pastry dishes like lahmacuns and the Tarter böreks which are simply small pizza style flat breads with variations of cheese, mince, spinach to name a few, together with the Italian Pizza reputed to have originated from the flat bread Focaccia the amazing transfer of food is simply mind boggling. The first document relating to the word pizza seems to have been in 997 A.D. Though some dispute its origins as having been brought from China by Marco Polo.

Back to the yogurt, its well recorded that the armies of Genghis Khan practically lived off this product as it provided  protein, calcium, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, iodine, phosphorus and potassium. The sheer land mass they conquered is to the modern historian simply mind boggling. Their empire stretched from the borders of Europe to China and south to India. Their speed even by today’s standards of modern warfare is amazing. In land mass these nomadic warriors left the conquests of the Romans and Alexander the great in the shade. Their postal system was so efficient that it was not until the middle of the 1800’s when the pony express broke new grounds in the USA that it was finally matched. In fact the pony express pony-expresswas based on the postal system that Genghis Khan used and any interference in these super horsemen was punishable by death. Their relay stations at intervals offered them fresh horses and helped them cover an incredible line of communications that stretched 5000 miles.

This was called the ”Yam” courier system. With a pouch of cheese and yogurt on horseback these amazing horsemen simply kept going on a product that we simply take for granted today. From such a primitive beginning the yogurt itself is used in at least 90% of British homes and is an indispensable part of the modern diet. It is to the nomadic warriors of central Asia that we need to thank for leaving us such a tasty part of our food intake. Every country in the world has given us something to enjoy in the infinite variety of food products we all take for granted. Credit where credit is due however. Next time you take a bite of a piece of cheese or a spoonful of yogurt, try to remember that without the past experiments of nomadic herdsman our cuisine today may not have been so rich.



2 thoughts on “Turkey – The Origins of Cheese and Yogurt

  1. Thanks for the informative article Ismail. The tendency of copyright and claiming ownership of such historical food products and methods of producing food by different countries causes dıstress and animosity between people and countries. In the case of Turkish Cofee, Baklava, Yoğurt and in the case of Hellim we have witnessed the stupidity between our two countries !!! Whereas if you research and find out who made it first it’s a different story if you ever find out!!! İnstead of this form of the legality of naming foods that cause disputes and conflicts, we should just forget it and enjoy what our ancestors have developed for us to be nourished properly.

  2. Absolutely! and Ayran!! ( “drinking yogurt” now often sweetened but) 1 1st tasted the original on the 3rd day of a train journey from London to Istanbul in1972 when the only “food” iavailable was sold by local women on the stations when the train stopped -ayran and Lahmacun

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