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I often make this simple recipe - [fresh] tagliatelle with spinach & mascarpone.

Garlic, sautéed in butter & olive oil, wilt the spinach, a dash of nutmeg, very generous dollop of mascarpone, bit of seasoning; then mix in the tagliatelle & loosen with reserved pasta water. Done in 10 minutes, start to finish. Lovely.

Due to the current lockdown, my source for the cream cheese will be my local Turkish 'mini-mart'. The guys there are great, they are well-stocked, but have unsurprisingly a great number of products directly imported from Turkey.
They will always try their best to find me something close to what I need, but sometimes we get lost in translation or there is no direct equivalent. They're also shopkeepers, not cooks, so sometimes just don't know which might be best/closest.
They have about 8ft of fridge space for cheese/dairy, floor to above head height, so there is a lot to choose from, not more than half a dozen of which will be British products labelled in English.

A bit of research online tells me I should be looking for perhaps taze krem peynir or labne. The first I understand to mean fresh cream cheese, the second I'm not sure. I've also been warned that some are like 'Dairylea' or 'Laughing Cow' processed cheese, which I'm keen to avoid.

Is anyone well-versed enough in Turkish food to give me a reasonable guide to what I may actually be looking for? Bear in mind, I really won't be able to read the labels in any meaningful way, so I need the big clues to identification.

I've seen What is a substitute for mascarpone cheese? but even to substitute 'cream cheese' I've first to correctly identify the right cream cheese, so I'm back to square one ;)

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The closest Turkish equivalent is kaymak (prononunced like guy-mac but with a k, accent on the second syllable). It is reasonably well available in Turkish mini-marts, although the only available brand may use gums or other thickeners.

It is not a perfect substitute, and may not whip well if you mix it with cream for pastry-making. But for mixing into a pasta sauce, it will work very well and give you that fat-rich mouthfeel from real mascarpone.

By the way, I have seen many variants of this sauce. I make mine most commonly with German quark as the dairy component (if you want to try that, ask the Turks for kesmik, but make sure you are getting a wet kind, not a dry kind). So feel free to experiment with any kind of fresh cheese or high-fat fermented dairy, all of them are likely to produce something good, but slightly different in texture and flavor notes. Also, a small tip beside the dairy: instead of all-spinach, try half spinach, half chard (both wilted).

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  • Cool, thanks. Chard isn't commonly-available here, in fact outside of those nitrogen-filled mixed salad bags, almost impossible to find. The original recipe used half mascarpone, half double cream… but I thought it was fat-laden enough without that ;) – Tetsujin May 5 at 10:55
  • Yay! Managed to get some kaymak. Will report back how it went. Dinner is scheduled for Wedesday - due to lockdown we're planning a long way in advance. – Tetsujin May 9 at 11:41
  • A day earlier than planned - but it came out perfectly. It may have had thickener, but it melted down into the sauce just fine. Taste-wise I wouldn't have known the difference. Excellent advice. Thanks. – Tetsujin May 13 at 8:01
  • @Tetsujin Glad to hear it! – rumtscho May 14 at 21:12

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