Express breakfast in the eastern village of Boğatepe
Nearly one hour from the city center of Kars, the village of Boğatepe is known for where the famous Kars gravyer cheese was born. The increasing number of tourists coming to Kars on the Eastern Express have also made it to the village of Boğatepe.
Boğatepe is a good example of a sustainable local economy. The village’s cheese culture has been shaped by the immigrants that have come to the village. The village was formed at the end of 1800s. It was a tableland of such villages and most of the locals were the Molokans.
Molokans, who engaged with agriculture and animal husbandry in the region, brought cheese and varieties to Kars and its environs. So, while the surrounding villagers engaged with animal husbandry and handcrafts, families in Boğatepe started to work on milk and dairy products. This has brought a miraculous economic transformation to the village.
Boğatepe is constantly producing gravyer cheese and many other kinds of cheese. All of the families in the province are engaged with cheese-making.
The village has recently become a center of attraction for tourists with the increase in popularity of the Eastern Express. The families in the village have started opening their homes to visitors to offer them an organic village breakfast. Their reputation has spread so much that even diplomats from embassies and consulate generals come to the village to taste the breakfast.
One of these families is the Koçulu family. They have been engaged with cheese production for generations. Çağdaş Koçulu, the family’s youngest representative, has said the grocery store in the village keeps track of the daily number of tourists and 7,000 tourists have visited the village since the beginning of the year.
“This business has now turned into breakfast tourism,” he says.
The story of the Kars gravyer cheese started in the 1900s, when a Swiss cheese producer David Moser came to the village and saw that the qualities of the village were ideal for the production of the Swiss gruyere cheese. He then established a cheese production company called “zavot” in Russian. The cheese, known as gravyer, has become famous through time.
The biggest contribution to eco-tourism has been provided by the Boğatepe Association of Environment and Life, which was established in 2007. The association has literally changed the face of the village.
A few weeks ago, when a short video on the contributions eco-tourism by the head of the association, Zümran Ömür, was shared on social media, both Ömür and Boğatepe became known in Turkey.
As part of the projects, the Ecological Cheese Museum and Plant Museum were established in the village. Also, works have been carried out for the promotion of gravyer and kashar (kaşar) cheese.
Ömür and other association members are learning French in order to communicate with the French who are drawn to the village for its eco-tourism. They also take yoga classes and are educated about plants. The village has changed from a place where people once immigrated from into a place where people now immigrate to.
“In the past, we used to host our own guests and offer them breakfast. But now, there is a high demand and tourists have begun coming. In return, they pay a reasonable price. Ninety percent of this price meets the cost of cheese. It has motivated the women in the village. They think ‘if 10 people come and I earn 250 Turkish Liras, I can pay for the needs of my house for the next three to four months.’ They also get to know new people and are happy because of this,” he said.