For anyone who’s ever experienced the luxurious, languid spread of a proper Turkish breakfast, you’ll know about the velvety piece of gourmet heaven that is kaymak. The gentle curl, or perhaps rough smudge, of this Turkish version of clotted cream sits smugly in its bath of honey, knowing full well it’s the most desired item on the table. However much you try and save this sweet delicacy until last, it knows full well you can’t resist, and before long, hunks of crusty bread are being torn off and dipped in. But an empty plate of bal kaymak (as the combination is called here), when the rest of the breakfast hasn’t yet been finished, is too sad a sight. It’s usually not long before a second plate is being ordered.
Where to taste it
As well as being a breakfast essential, kaymak is often served as an accompaniment to desserts or perhaps used as an ingredient itself. It’d be a crime against your palate to enjoy ayva tatlısı (a syrupy candied quince dessert), without a good dollop of the stuff. Same goes for another Afyon (more about that later) specialty, ekmek kadayıfı, which is a sticky, sweet bread pudding. You’ll also find it used inside the best baklava varieties and providing the creamy texture in katmer (a folded dough pancake from Gaziantep). Its decadent, creamy flavor with an ever-so-slightly cheesy tang complements any honey or syrup based sweets, providing the decadent yin to its yang.
A regional specialty
Although kaymak can be made with cows’ milk, the best versions are made using the milk of water buffalos. And the best of them all, the cream of the crop (if you’ll excuse the pun), is made in Afyonkarahisar, a city in western Anatolia, whose name translates to ‘opium black castle.’ The clue is in the name here; the city is best known for its legalized production of opium. The kaymak benefits from this, as the local water buffalos are fed on the residue of the poppy seeds (called küspe) after they have been pressed to extract their potent oils. Locals claim that it is this which makes their kaymak so coveted. However, the only way to find out is to visit the area and taste it for yourselves – kaymak doesn’t travel well because it quickly becomes oxidized, losing its sumptuous taste.
How it’s made
Once the milk has been collected (usually twice a day), it is then heated in a wide, shallow tray before being left to simmer for a number of hours until a thick skin has formed. It’s important not to overheat it at this stage, as this will kill the good bacteria that give it that uniquely tangy flavor. After being left to cool for several hours, this thick skin (the kaymak) is removed, cut into rectangles, and rolled into the dainty curls usually seen tempting passersby in alluring shop windows. This process creates the pock-marked outer skin, which gives way to a delightfully gooey interior while retaining its structural integrity enough for it to be cut with a knife.
Where to buy it
- Hacı Hasan Fehmi Özsüt: the clue to this muhallebici’s success is the photos of buffalos that adorn the walls – and that reside in their Sarıyer-based farm. Serving Karaköy locals since 1915, it’s a great, unassuming spot for breakfast or a dairy dessert. İstiklal Caddesi No.261; T: 0535 608 87 05
- Boris’in Yeri Süt Mamülleri: open since 1936, this is another of Istanbul’s best-loved kaymakçıs still in operation. Whatever time of day you go, you really ought to eat the breakfast, although the puddings are great too. Ördekli Bakkal Sokak No. 17, Kumkapı; T: (0212) 517 22 56
- Barbaros Yoğurt ve Süt Mamülleri: as the name suggests, this nostalgic little shop sells yogurt and milk products. It’s a no-nonsense sort of place that concentrates on doing what it knows and doing it well: serving delicious buffalo-milk kaymak since 1918. Akşemsettin Caddesi No.9, Fatih; T: (0212) 523 00 30
If you’re not in Turkey, however, you might find it in other countries, all the way from Montenegro to Mongolia, under any of the following guises: kajmak, kaimak, geymar, gaimar, kaylgmak, qaymaq, qaymoq, qhaymaqh, or sarshir. If you’re in the UK or USA on the other hand, it is often likened to English (or Devonshire) clotted cream, and this is a good substitute. But somehow nothing quite compares to that little piece of breakfast heaven.