In my first piece about Israeli cheese I gave some historical background about traditional cheese making in Israel and the region. In this article I will take you one step further into some actual cheese tasting and, provide some background about modern Israeli artisan cheese. In the next item I will give you some good pointers for great cheese.
The most typical regional cheese is the Arab spread cheese called “Labane“. It appears in many levels of humidity, but the most traditional form is the little spheres kept in olive oil for very long preservation time. The cheese is very sour and salty and it shows the efficiency of the traditional method for keeping it intact in the hot climate of the region. It is usually made of sheep milk, but it is tastier if it is made of goat milk. You can find it in any store or restaurant in the Arab towns, but you should prefer the ones in the large supermarkets that buy it from authorized producers. One well known Arab producer is the Galilee Dairy in the Arab town of Tamra on the Lower Galilee. A very well known Arab dessert called “Kenafe” is made on top of a layer of goat cheese called “Gibne” (The Arabic word for cheese). It is a very sweet desert and the presence of cheese is very surprising and tasty.
The oldest Jewish dairy in Israel is the “Hameiri” dairy in the town of Zefat (Safad). The Hameiri head of the family came to Zefat in the middle of the 19th century from Iran, and his family keeps the old tradition of local cheese making since then.. The dairy produces the cheese called “Zefatit” named after the town of Zefat which is considered the most famous Israeli cheese. The dairy also hosts a very nice visitor center. When in Zefat do not miss a visit to the “Kadosh” dairy, another old (about 100 years) dairy producing basic hard salty cheese from sheep milk.
Artisan cheese making in Israel started only 30 years ago by some pioneers that went to Europe on their own to learn the art of cheese making. Since then, the cheese culture has flourished all around the country, (second only to wine making – in itself an amazing development). Today there are close to 100 small dairies scattered around the country, and additional hundreds of smaller producers in almost any farm, village, Kibbutz, or Moshav (Israeli forms of agricultural communities), most of them enthusiastic about their profession and many of them producing real gourmet Israeli cheeses.