Hıdrellez: The dairy day

Hıdrellez: The dairy day

I took a sip. The cool creamy sweetness amazed me. It was a mouthful of satisfaction, both refreshing and fulfilling at the same time. It was like a sensation long forgotten in the past, pretty much like a childhood memory. It was fresh spring milk.

Recently I had this experience twice. One was a week ago in Kastamonu, a beautiful province amidst forests in northern Anatolia. We were at Daday in the farm of İksir Resort, their cows were newly milked. The milk was boiled, it was kind of naturally sweet, so I mixed in a spoonful of Turkish coffee to add a bitter bite. It was again childhood memories rushing in my mind. For us kids, the Turkish coffee was made with milk instead of water, and they would say that we would have the proper coffee when we grew up. I never wanted to grow up, that way the milky coffee was so sublime that I’d rather stick to being a kid.

The latter was at a cheese tasting and book launch event at Swissotel in Istanbul. It was also the 20th year celebration of Antre Gourmet, one of the best cheese shops in Istanbul. The owners are two lovely ladies, Neşe Biber and Berrin Bal Onur, who are also the authors of two great books on Turkish cheeses, the latest one focusing on Balıkesir province’s cheeses only. Balıkesir covers a geography which deserves to be better known of having shores with both Marmara Sea and the northern Aegean Sea, lush with green pastures, naturally producing highly flavorful cheeses, top quality kaymak, clotted cream, and the best tasting meat. During the event they also demonstrated cheese making by curdling fresh milk. It was this milk that brought me back to childhood memories. Watching my reaction, my friend Aysun Sökmen, the producer of that special milk, smiled profoundly. She explained: “Fresh milk should taste like this, milk does not go bad, but it is the sugar in the milk that we lose. That is what we try to retain, our milk is bottled raw with the highest possible hygiene standards, that is why it is full of flavor and has this typical sweetness.”

Spring milk is truly special. Actually today is Hıdrellez, celebrated from the night of May 5 through 6; it is in a way like the official opening of the new milk season, I would say the dairy day! In the past Hıdrellez was the day where people would start the day with fresh spring milk, before Hıdrellez the herds were left to thrive, nourished with the lush spring green pasture. Hıdrellez day is believed to be the only day when prophets Hızır/Hıdır and Ilyas/Elias meets and visits the earth, their names fused together to Hıdrellez. Hızır/Hıdır stands for the earth and the green and Ilyas/Elias stands for the water. The day symbolizes the flourishing of nature, and was also considered as the start of summer days. Folk calendar divided the year into tow, winter and summer; from May 6 till November 8 it was called “Days of Hızır,” which meant summer days, the rest of the year was winter days. Shortly, Hıdrellez marked the definite end to the winter days, a reason to celebrate the joy of nature and warm days full of sunshine. Now have a good glass of milk and salute the dairy day with the fresh taste of spring!

Fork & Cork of the Week:

The liquid we are talking is surely milk, but milk in Turkish culture also has this interesting connection with coffee. At a recent panel on Ottoman cuisine, historian Arif Bilgin gave a talk on breakfast culture in Turkey. The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvaltı, coming from kahve-altı, literally meaning “before coffee.” Originally the first meal of the day used to be around 11:00 a.m., before noon, but with the introduction of coffee as a wake-up potion in the morning, people started to take a bite before having their first coffee of the day, believing that eating something before coffee would ward off the possible harmful effects of the dark potent potion. Interestingly that first bite of the day before coffee was milk and jam.

The habit of making Turkish coffee with milk for kids and invalid must have stemmed from this tradition, to protect the small or fragile bodies from the strong punch of coffee. Now in the ever-expanding world of coffee, brands are starting to produce milk-compatible blends. Recently there are three newly launched limited edition Barista espresso blends, Chiaro, Scuro and Corto that are solely designed to be served with milk.

My choice for a macchiato would be Scuro, while Corto makes a good cappuccino with Aysun’s milk. Check Nespresso shops or buynespresso.com/tr for limited edition milk harmonious espresso capsules and for raw milk check the website of “Aysun the Sütçü,” gundonumu.biz.tr/perakende-satis-noktalari. Keep in mind that you can have direct delivery to your door, or check Antre Gourmet cheese shop where they stock her milk, besides super tasty cheeses and of course for the Turkish language readers the superb book titled “50 Peynirli Şehir Balıkesir” (Balıkesir, The Town with 50 Cheeses) to nourish the soul. antregourmet.com

Aylin Öney Tan, cuisine, hıdrellez