Italian cheese from Black Sea’s Kandıra
In the Black Sea coastal town of Kandıra, only a couple of hours drive from Istanbul, there is the first modern water buffalo (bufala) farm in Turkey where famous Italian cheese such as mozzarella, burrata, ricotta and mascarpone are produced. I had the opportunity to visit this farm with a group of colleagues. Two businesspeople, Niyazi Yelkencioğlu and Ömer Aral, founded the farm with an investment of $5 million in 2013.
As a matter of fact, Kandıra is a place famous for its water buffalos; however, Kandıra has also been affected by the blow to animal husbandry, especially water buffalo husbandry, in Turkey. About 15 years ago, the number of water buffalos was 1 million. The number is now about 100,000, with only 1,000 left in Kandıra.
“When we decided to establish the farm in 2013, we visited 20 to 30 farms in Italy and chose the most suitable model for us,” our host Niyazi Yelkencioğlu explained.
The farm covers an area of 55,000 decares in Kandıra; it is producing Italian cheeses under the brand “Buffa” with modern technology. Its 500 water buffalos have been imported from Italy. “This is because while the local water buffalo would give two to three kilos of milk daily, the Italian water buffalo gives an average of 10 to 15 kilos of milk daily,” Niyazi Yelkencioğlu said.
The director in charge of animals and the production of cheese is an Italian, and a veterinary comes from Italy every six weeks to check on the animals.
After founding the water buffalo farm, Niyazi Yelkencioğlu also formed the “Kocaeli Water Buffalo Union,” and set an example to other breeders in the area.
“Local villagers used to raise water buffalos. Then they sold or slaughtered their animals to buy Holstein cows. Now they are going back to water buffalos again because one kilo of cow milk is about 1 Turkish Lira while 1 kilo of water buffalo milk is 7 liras. The water buffalo is the trend again,” he said.
In their own farm, by breeding their Italian animals with local water buffalo race, milk productivity has increased in Kandıra. In short, Turkey has rediscovered water buffalo through Italy. So much so that the water buffalo farm founded in Kandıra, based on a model in Italy, is being visited by water buffalo unions from other Black Sea provinces of Samsun and Giresun.
What about the consumption in Turkey of cheeses like mozzarella and burrata produced in the farm? Second generation Ali Aral and Eren Yelkencioğlu told us that in Istanbul “Buffa” products are sold at 70 places.
The biggest buyers are Italian restaurants in Istanbul. Their number is estimated to be around 200. Also, markets and hotels in touristic places such as Bodrum and Antalya are among the top buyers.
Buratta is especially on demand, said Ali Aral, adding that restaurants such as the Hacı Steakhouse in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri are among their customers.
The Italian cheese “buratta,” produced in Kandıra, meets consumers in Kayseri at the production place of “pastırma,” a Turkish dried and spiced meat. We can call it the meeting of cultures.
“Kaymak,” a Turkish heavy cream, is produced from water buffalo milk and traditionally used in yogurts and baklava. You never know, Niyazi Yelkencioğlu may one day be able to sell these tastes to Italy.