‘Kunapeest,’ the traditional Kurdish method of preserving cheese
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – As winter quickly approaches, the season is ripe for the harvest of Kurdish cheese from “Kunapeest” caves.
Kunapeest caves are used among Kurds across various mountain ranges in the region for preserving dairy products.
A kunapeest's temperature in the summer ranges from 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is characterized by a moderate climate ideal for preserving dairy products in the summer.
Kunapeest cheeses tend to vary in their characteristics, including the source of milk, whether it be cow or goat milk, but they generally tend to contain a low moisture content, with a moderate to high amount of salt.
Until mid-autumn and before winter, the cheese must be cared for, pressed, and turned.
One kunapeest owner said that in the past, the cheese was preserved “inside the skins of animals” because plastic containers were not available.
“In the past, the villagers raised livestock and produced a lot of cheese,” the cheesemaker said and noted, “All cheese that comes here is kept in a safe environment and never spoiled.”
As the temperature drops and winter approaches, the environment inside the cave becomes warmer relative to frigid temperatures in the mountains, so “it is a good time to bring out the stored cheese,” he added.
People who have stored their cheese in the kunapeest pay the cave’s owner a fee for storing and caring for it, although in some villages, the cave may be shared among the villagers as a public space.
The traditional process has been observed as far as hundreds of years ago when the preservation method became ingrained in Kurdish culture and cuisine.
Kurdish cheese, especially a variety called "Mayra," is in high demand in domestic markets.