Being the cradle of humanity the Middle East is considered to be the place of origin of cheese. However, the warm weather did not allow the development of gourmet cheese; and for years the regional cheeses were either very fresh or very salty like the Arab Labane (sour spread cheese made of goat and sheep milks), the Greek Feta or the Halumi of Cyprus.
The main valley in Jerusalem in around 0 CE was called “Valley of the Cheese Makers”, but, hard evidence for cheese making and commerce starts only on the 16th century around the city of Zefat.
None of the Israeli cheeses have a protected commercial name, but with no doubt the first that is likely to have such protection is the cheese called “Zefatit” after the name of the city of Zefat which was one of the four Jewish centers that were never abandoned during the 2000 years of the Jewish Diaspora outside of Israel.
The “Zefatit” cheese is a salted fresh cheese made from pasteurized sheep milk in Zefat for over a hundred years. Some say that it originates from an Arab cheese made in Acre, but, now days you will find only unsalted similar cheese called “Gibne” (“Cheese in Arabic) in Arab farms.
The Israeli market is dominated by one huge dairy called Tnuva that produces most of the local dairy products, but, 2 specialized manufacturers have arised as the main competitors in specialized cheese (Gad and Yakobs). In recent years hundreds of little farms started producing quality cheese (mainly of goat milk), and you may find some fine producers when driving along the country.
One cheese that you must not skip is the Israeli Cottage cheese. It is a very fresh cheese (even in best conditions it will not last more than a few days) made of low fat particles mixed in milk fat. Although found all over the world, Tnuva has succeeded were many other manufacturers failed and produces it without artificial processes. Take a treat and do not miss the 9% fat version, you are on vacation, and can start the diet when back home.
Rami is an accomplished amateur cheese maker.