Where I grew up, milk was a big deal. There was daily home milk delivery, huge containers of milk at the supermarket, and milk available in every restaurant. As a kid, I drank fresh milk with just about every meal. That was where I got my calcium and vitamin D. It just seemed natural that milk would be a part of my diet all my life.
Until I moved to Turkey. Here, boxed long-life milk is the norm – the kind that lasts for a year and doesn’t need to be refrigerated until after it’s opened. And if you’re used to fresh milk, the boxed stuff tastes terrible. In recent years, fresh milk has become more readily available, and I take advantage of it when I’m really craving milk, but with prices nearly twice as high as boxed milk, I save fresh milk for special occasions only.
But that’s not to say that Turks don’t do dairy products; they just do them in a different way. When I first moved here, I literally laughed out loud when I saw the yogurt aisle. And I do mean exactly that: an entire aisle devoted solely to yogurt of all different types. And these weren’t the little tiny hand-held cups of yogurt with fruit mixed in – I’m talking gigantic 3kg tubs of plain yogurt, in buckets with handles like multi-gallon paint containers. I couldn’t believe that anyone would ever have a need for that much yogurt in their entire lives.
Nowadays, in my household, we go through a 3kg yogurt tub at a rate of about one a week. We use it for everything. I have a small bowl of yogurt with Turkish honey for breakfast. I make vegetable dips with yogurt for lunch. At dinner time, there’s always a bowl of yogurt on the table, and I almost always have to get up and refill it at least once. People use it for dipping, or spooning over their food, or just as a side dish.
Turkish yogurt tastes so great, it hardly needs anything else to be served with it. I always thought of plain yogurt as… well, plain. Boring. Bland. Not worth my time. Turkish yogurt, on the other hand, has such a wonderful, delicate flavour, it would be a shame to cover it up with too many other things. I like just a light drizzle of honey to sweeten it slightly, but that’s it. That’s enough.
One of the things I’ve grown to love about Turkish yogurt is the crust. This is something you don’t see very often in Europe or America, if at all. Yogurt naturally forms a lightly bubbled crust on its surface, much like the crust on English clotted cream. In Turkey, you have the option to purchase your yogurt either with the crust still on, or taken off, and which one you choose is similar to the crunchy-versus-smooth peanut butter divide in other countries. You’re either a yogurt crust person or you’re not, and I definitely am. In fact, I’ve been known to have a bowl of yogurt crust just on its own – it’s that good. Non-crust people look at me in disgust, but they don’t know what they’re missing.
I think it’s safe to say that with the great variety of yogurt we get here, I don’t really miss milk that much anymore.