Cheese in Israel – Boutique Dairies
One of the most exciting culinary fields in Israel is the dairy manufacture. Israel is a very strong producer of dairy goods. A quick visit to the local supermarket reveals the extensive array of outstanding Israeli milk products. Dairy products play an important role in the everyday menu of most Israelis.
In addition to the well-established Israeli dairy industry, several boutique dairies, offering a small variety of cheeses and based on a small-scale production, have appeared in the last decades. The cheese-making processes in these boutique dairies are more often than not handcraft and traditional, thus allowing full expression to the artisan cheese maker’s creativity and uniqueness.
There are many boutique dairies in Israel – we have chosen the following special dairies for your cooking vacations in Israel:
My favorite dairy is the Barkanit Dairy in Kfar Yechezkel village in the Emek Izreel region. This small family farm is run by the Brakin family: Michal, Avinoam and their children who have followed in their footsteps. During the last thirty years, their goat and sheep herd, fed on natural fields, has developed into one of the best herds of the country. Michal and Avinoam specialized in France and Spain but they have likewise incorporated into their cheese-making the distinctive Israeli flavour. Cheese makers from all over the country come to Barkanit to savor their expertise. Their specialty is most probably the Saint Maure, although connoisseurs might prefer to taste their “Hidden Blue”, which is simply fantastic!
Another excellent dairy is Hanoked Dairy in Gilon village. Those joining us in our week-long culinary tour in Israel will enjoy a visit to this dairy which includes a unique cheese-making workshop. The story of this dairy starts with a man who had a dream… Danny, a Technion-trained engineer, decided to have a herd. After seventeen years of loving dedication to his animals, the almost entire herd was stolen in the dark of night. In order to overcome the deep crisis, Danny, encouraged by his family, traveled to France. He studied there in one of the best cheese-making schools, and once back he started to produce his own exquisite cheeses. In Hebrew we say: “Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14)… Nowadays his dairy offers an amazing array of mature goat’s cheeses as well as various kinds of hard cheeses. I warmly recommend you the ‘hararit’ mature goat’s cheese shaped in a pyramid.
A visit to Jacobs Dairy in Kfar Haroe in the Hefer Valley is yet another opportunity to savour Israeli gourmet cheeses while on a culinary tour. The father established the farm and the barn in the 1970’s. At present the farm is managed most harmoniously by his four sons. The sons learned their skills from their father, but they have likewise spent time studying and specializing in cheese-making techniques in Europe. The farm offers a wide variety of cheese produced from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. The best, however, is the…yogurt! It is a thick yogurt produced from goat’s milk with a delicate lemony flavour. Jacobs dairy is kosher.
Shay Zeltser’s Dairy in Sataf in the Jerusalem Mountains is to sure an intriguing place. Shay Zeltser himself is a picturesque figure, one of the most traditional and talented cheese makers in Israel. Shay matures and keeps his cheeses inside a natural cave wherein the temperature and the humidity are ideal for the production of cheese. Shay’s daughter moreover works with organic agriculture and develops the field of herbs and vegetables in the farm. It is rather difficult to recommend one favourite cheese to savour here, they are really all incredible – you must come and try by yourself!
The oldest dairy in Israel is Hameiri Dairy in the old quarter of Safed. The dairy was established after the big earthquake which struck Safed in 1837. Today the dairy is still managed by a sixth generation descendant of the Hameiri cheese makers – Yaniv Hameiri. Moreover the well-known Safed cheese is a special kind of cheese which was first produced by the Hameiri family in Safed. The Safed cheese has suffered many changes. Thus while the original Safed cheese was a rather hard cheese produced of cow’s milk and recommended for grinding, the Sefad cheese found commonly in the supermarket shelves today is a softer variation of the original.
To sum up, cooking vacations in Israel reveals, among other things, a rich variety of unique people who chose to make their dreams come true. Behind all these authentic farms there is always a story; there is always someone with a vision and courage. The result is a wide range of exceptional cheeses that have undergone many transformations and that are now waiting for you to discover and delight in their savour!