Yakçukur, the home of creamy Turkish butter

Yakçukur, the home of creamy Turkish butter

Wilco Van Herpen
Yakçukur, the home of creamy Turkish butter

Photo by Wilco van Herpen, Hürriyet Daily News.

It had snowed a couple of days ago and the mountains were still covered in snow. The roads were slippery, sometimes covered with ice. I am on my way to Yakçukur near Tonya in the Black Sea province of Trabzon. This region is well-known for its butter, and that is my aim: to learn why the butter here is so much better than in other parts of Turkey.

From Tonya it is a half hour drive to Yakçukur. The road slowly goes up into the mountains. No big polluting factories, just a couple of small villages and beautiful nature. Wherever I look I see only snow, but I can imagine how beautifully green it must be during the rest of the year. Forests, meadows, little streams – this is the Black Sea region. If I were a cow I would be happy to live here, to graze at the plateau during summertime and give some milk in return.

When I arrive in Yakçukur the head of the village gives me a warm welcome. He invites me inside his house and we have a talk. The interesting thing in this village is that the people here speak “Rumca” (a Greek language generally spoken by the Greek minority in Turkey). “Do not ask me any question about this language or my identity,” he tells me. “I am a Turk and the fact that we speak Rumca is just because my parents and grandparents spoke this language.” For me, though, this is the wealth of Turkey – everywhere there is a different local language, different food, tradition or history.

Milking the cows to produce butter
He points out the stable where his wife and daughter have already started milking the cows. Their stable is not big, just big enough for their 10 cows and eight calves. The cows stand in two rows facing the wall in the stable. In the middle of the stable is a kind of canal to remove the cows’ manure. A little light pours in from the few windows. The cows stay for six months in this stable, and for six months they graze in the highlands. (I conclude that I definitely do not want to be a cow.) The village head’s wife sits on a little stool and squeezes a bucket between her legs. This way she can milk the cow and at the same time protect the bucket in case the cow makes a move and kicks over the bucket with the precious milk.

I have seen milking before – actually I have also done it before – but every time I am amazed at the speed women can milk cows. All the milk is put in a big container and brought to another room.

From the milk she makes cheese, yogurt and butter. In the middle of the room stands a small machine that looks like a basket with two pipes and a pump handle. She starts to swing the crank slowly, but once the centrifuge gains speed she turns the crank faster and faster. Then, while turning the pump handle, she slowly pours in the raw milk. From one of the pipes a thin trickle of milk pours in a bucket. From the other pipe a yellowish greasy liquid slowly pours into another bucket. This is the cream that will soon become the famous Tonya butter.

After turning the pump handle for a minute suddenly the woman tells me that I have to turn faster. She explains to me that when I turn too slowly too much cream will end up in the milk. If, on the other hand, I turn too fast, too much milk will end up in the cream. In the end, all the raw milk is divided into milk and cream.

She pours the cream into a conical barrel, closes it very securely with a plug and calls in her husband. In front of the stable they connect the barrel to the ceiling and start shaking it: from the woman to the man and back to the woman, and so on. It looks like an easy job, but then I realize that there is about 20 liters of cream in the barrel. To shake this, especially once the butter starts setting, must be quite a difficult job. Fifteen minutes later the butter is ready. She takes the butter out of the barrel and puts it into a big plastic bowl. She washes the butter with ice-cold water, stirring it with a big wooden spoon over and over again. It is a long time before she is satisfied with the result, shapes the butter and makes three lines in it with the spoon.

“This is our famous Tonya butter,” she says with a smile on her flushed face. Now it is time for us to have breakfast.”