Oct 282010
 

Yossi and the Gang

Thirty years ago, when my husband moved to Israel, there were basically six types of cheese available in supermarkets and groceries, all from the monopolist dairy cooperative Tnuva: one type of cottage cheese, one soft white cheese to spread, two hard “white” cheeses — Tzfatit and Bulgarian — and two hard “yellow” cheeses. Since then, the variety of cheese available in Israel has multiplied more than 100 times, with boutique cheese makers sprouting up all over the country and producing cheeses that can compare favorably with anything from France or Italy. And Tnuva, after facing massive competition from both the boutiques and several medium sized dairy food companies, is now privatized.

The selection of boutique cow, sheep and goat cheeses that one can find at almost any supermarket in Israel, let alone farmers’ markets or food fairs, now rivals that of the average large European supermarket, and certainly outweighs what you normally find in Britain and the United States. To slightly misquote the well known saying, “not only the appetite comes with the eating, but also the curiosity”: Israeli consumers have become more and more ambitious in their tastes both thanks to the growing variety of local products and their passion for foreign travel, and the result has been that there is also tremendous demand for imported cheese, as well as wine and other products.

Recently, we went to a cheese tasting at a food importer located near our home, organized by our friend Yossi David, whom we first met when he organized a wine tasting at his home outside Jerusalem last year. The importer, Shevic, has a big metal barn sitting on what is probably worth US $1 million of land in one of the most expensive villages in the country, Bnei Tzion, but the stock of cheese that he keeps in the refrigerated store room on one side probably justifies the location, because he is one of the main suppliers of premium imported cheeses as well as a few other products to supermarkets, high-end groceries and specialist cheese shops, such as Basher in Machane Yehuda.

Shevi Cheese Importers

Alon Aberbuch and his partner Eyal normally don’t sell directly to the public, but because Yossi promised to bring two dozen odd discriminating cheeseaholics to try their wares, they laid on a beautiful spread, complete with some homemade bread that Yossi’s wife Dina contributed to the festivities, as well as some some smoked salmon and imported Greek olives.

Italian Provolone

Shevic imports some very interesting cheeses and I had fun perusing a world of different varieties, such as the beautiful Italian provolone above.

Cheese for the Tasting

The tasting offered both kosher and non-kosher cheeses: Sage Derby from England, French Brie, Montagnolo, which is a Gorgonzola-like creamy blue cheese from Germany, Dutch Gouda, and a couple of French goat cheeses.

They also served a variety of sheep cheeses from the Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash (Land of Milk and Honey) dairy in Moshav Nechalim, near Petach Tikvah. This dairy makes delicious kosher sheep cheese of which I brought home two samplings: sheep cheese wrapped in vine leaves and one with a vein of red wine.

French Basque Sheep Cheese

I also found some cheeses I had never tried before: one was a French Basque semi-firm sheep cheese called Baskeriu, which has a slightly nutty taste. I also found a very interesting soft Circassian goat cheese, a round flat cheese without a rind, made in Rekhaniya, a Circassian village in northern Israel near Tzfat.

Greek Olives

Shevic also imports delicious Greek olives and olive oil as well as some Mexican salsas, barbecue and hot sauces from the United States.

My husband and I had a wonderful time meeting other foodies, tasting the delicious cheeses, and drinking a delicious 2007 Shaked Cabernet Sauvignon that Yossi had brought from Yehuda Winery, located in Moshav Shoresh, near Jerusalem. We came home with Belgian butter which I will only use to make my grandmother’s butter cookies, Montagnolo cheese, two cheeses from Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash, two bottles of Yehuda Cabernet Sauvignon, and a big smile.

Oct 242010
 

Tulip Winery Sign

Tulip Winery, located in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), was established in 2003 by the Itzhaki family. The youngest son, Roy Itzhaki, established the Tulip Winery with a family investment. “I come from a family that works in construction and real estate, and we are wine freaks,” he says. “Seven years ago, we visited a wine exhibition at the Scottish House, and we saw someone sell 1,000 bottles he made at home. I started doing some research and found out that for 15,000 NIS, you can make two barrels of wine at home. Because it’s a messy process, I told my parents, ‘Let’s rent a place.’”

Kfar Tikva, which is close to the Itzhaki’s home, was already established as a long-term home for people with special needs, and had a small, experimental winery for its working residents. “The village had financial difficulties at the time, and they were trying to privatize a few of the occupational departments,” recalls Itzhaki. “I went to see it and they told me the winery was for sale. So I discussed with the family and we decided to buy it.”

Tulip Winery’s vineyards are located at Kfar Yuval and below Keren ben Zimra, in the North, where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. They have also have vineyards in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem at Moshav Matta and Karmei Yosef where they grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes.

Tulip Winery Exterior

Tulip Winery employs Kfar Tikva residents in harvesting, bottling, and packaging the wine as well as welcoming guests in the visitors’ center. The winery also promotes joint activities with Kfar Tikva, including the sale of crafts made by the community members. During the holidays the winery offers holiday gift packages that include artworks created by the members, with revenues donated directly to Kfar Tikva and its members.

Michal Negrin Tulip Winery Bottles

Notwithstanding the emphasis on contributing to the community, Tulip Winery’s main goal is to produce top quality wine that not only tastes good but also looks good in the bottle: for example, one series had labels designed by the well-known Israeli jewellery and fashion designer Michal Negrin. Even the normal series pay serious attention to the aesthetics of their labels in order to catch the buyers’ eye, something that is now typical of Israeli boutique wineries.

Tulip Wines

The range of grapes that Tulip uses is a little more varied than most Israeli boutique wineries: only a few others, for example, have a Cabernet Franc, a grape that produces wines with a powerful and chunky taste that is difficult to balance. But what’s perhaps more unusual is that in a country where the climate and soil — and habit — make red wine far more popular than white (and where rosé is mainly very new), this winery has also developed what it calls White Tulip, a blend of Gewürtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that combines the fruitiness of both varieties without the natural sweetness of the Gewürtztraminer and so is suitable both as an aperitif and for drinking throughout a meal.

Tulip Winery Interior

The irony is that although Itzhaki calls himself and his family ‘wine freaks,’ their whole enthusiasm for wine started out of ignorance: his father was dining at a top restaurant in Paris, he told Israeli daily Haaretz in a profile article, and aroused the staff’s disdain by ordering beer. The result was that father Itzhak was given a swift education in drinking wine with gourmet food, and then passed on his newly-acquired knowledge to Roy and the rest of the family. But from the establishment of the winery in 2003, success didn’t take long to arrive: they already received silver medals at the Finger Lake competition in the USA for their 2004 Syrah Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2005 vintages of the same wines were recommended by international guru Robert Parker in the Wine Spectator. Virtue, it appears, does get rewarded, at least when accompanied by skill.

Tulip Winery’s Visitors Center
Open every Friday 10:00-13:00 and every Saturday 11:00-16:00
Now Kosher (as of end of 2010)

Oct 172010
 

This past Friday afternoon, my mother-in-law, the much revered and loved singing teacher, Vera Rozsa-Nordell passed away. She wasn’t just a great artist to me, she was my personal inspiration because of her personality and energy. When I first met her, I was afraid of her awesome presence, but she welcomed me and I knew she loved me when she kept telling me I was good for her son and that she would kill for my hair. Her great love and incredible knowledge of music, especially Schubert’s Lieder cannot be replaced. Her Hungarian accent, her great beauty, her wonderful laugh, her stern look and then her lovely smile, her glint in her eyes when she was satisfied that her students were singing to the best of their ability, and her own beautiful voice will be sorely missed. But in the end, she was just Mommy to me.

Oct 132010
 

Vaniglia Gelateria

Brothers Nitzan and Itay Rogozinski opened their first branch of the Vaniglia ice cream boutique in 2001 at Basel Square in Tel Aviv. Anything that goes into the ice cream is made on the premises, from cheesecake to poppy seed cake. They use pistachio paste from Sicily, truffle oil from Umbria, orange flower petals from Turkey, camomile flowers from Egypt, tonka beans from Guinea and vanilla from Madagascar; to mention but a few.

Vaniglia in a Cup

Vaniglia offers a nice selection of sorbets with a very high percentage of fruit (over 70%). The dairy ice creams are delicious too, and they are also producing a new line of 100% organic ice creams made with rice milk or soy milk, and a line that is sugar-free.

I visited the new Hod HaSharon branch that is located in a cute little “house” that was built for the ice cream shop. It might look small from the outside, but this branch offers a good selection, such as the following highly recommended flavors:

  • Yogurt with orange flower water, Sicilian pistachios and apricot compote
  • Yogurt with honey and pine nuts
  • Plum sorbet
  • Valharona chocolate with an infusion of cocoa beans and chocolate crunch
  • Sicilian pistachio
  • Coconut
  • Mango sorbet
  • Blackberry sorbet
  • Oh, just try them all!!!

Vaniglia has several locations:

22a Eshtori Hafarchi Street (off Basel Street)
Tel Aviv

98 Ibn Gvirol Street
Tel Aviv

HaTachana
Tel Aviv

18 Derech Ramatayim
Hod HaSharon

Shaked Gelateria

Shaked Gelateria (pronounced Sha-Ked) was originally started as a pizzeria in the leafy town of Ramat Gan, just next to Tel Aviv, then turned into a cafe, and eventually branched out into homemade ice creams. Today, Shaked also has a branch in the entertainment zone of the old Tel Aviv Port, which is also a cafe, even though it is better known for its ice cream (something which obviously appeals to the patrons of the toy shop strategically located next door).

Shaked in a Cup

Shaked offers some interesting flavors of ice cream, such Kremschnitt, sabra (prickly pear) sorbet, olive oil and za’aatar (hyssop), tehina and humous. They also produced a special for the World Cup, which is no longer available: beer ice cream with sunflower seeds! Unfortunately, they didn’t have some of these flavors on offer when I visited the Tel Aviv Port location, but I do recommend the following:

  • Frutti di Bosco (Forest Fruits)
  • Chocolate sorbet
  • Cheesecake
  • Mango
  • Limoncello

Shaked Gelateria has two locations:

Hangar 7, Tel Aviv Port
Tel Aviv

40 Aluf David
Ramat Gan

Oct 072010
 

I am on a mission to find the best ice cream in Israel and it is a task that I do not take lightly, at least not around my waist. I have a confession to make: I am an ice cream snob and am not embarrassed to admit it.

Ice cream is in my blood. My earliest memory is eating peppermint ice cream at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on our way to the annual family vacation in Miami, Clearwater or Daytona Beach, Florida. Howard Johnson’s ice creams were the best and when I got older I graduated to eating their pistachio ice cream which was considered an exotic treat. In 1980, my father and my uncle opened a ice cream and game room shop, called the Cream Machine, in the neighboring university town where I grew up. I worked there on weekends making black pepper brownies for our hot fudge sundae brownies and selling ice cream. Our gimmick was our ice cream sundae bar. You could put as many toppings on as you like and you paid by the weight.

After living in a Swiss town on the Italian border and travelling around Europe, I can say that I have tasted some of the best gelato in Italy and France. I also like to experiment making ice cream and sorbets at home. So, when I moved to Israel over 10 years ago, I had to make sure I was moving to a country with some form of ice cream culture and I was happy to find out that there was one. There wasn’t as much experimentation in some of the older shops as there is now, but by 2007, the boutique ice cream shops started appearing. Now, I am happy to say, Israel can compete with the big boys and I am going to show you the best-of-the-best in this series.

Iceberg Storefront

Since Iceberg first opened in Tel Aviv, its shops have become known for some of the best boutique ice cream in the country. They have a variety of water-based and cream-based ice creams to choose from and are happy for you to try-before-you-buy. I went to the newly opened Iceberg and Vulcano Cafe in Hod Hasharon. This is a new concept cafe that has the ice cream shop on one side and a pizza and pinchos restaurant on the other.

Iceberg, which has been open since 1999, markets itself as “100% Low Tech Ice Cream”. It is a clever statement that really means they make all natural ice creams. According to Haaretz, whose restaurant reviews and articles on food and cooking have contributed considerably to the development of a more sophisticated food culture in Israel, “when Dalit and Ilan Bar decided to go into the ice cream business, they took it very seriously. The journey in search of the perfect ice cream included Italy, France and the United States. They took from here, they took from there, they adapted the percentages of fat, the flavor and the texture to the Israeli climate and character.”

Iceberg in a Cup

What I like about Iceberg is that they are not afraid to experiment and even take ideas from others, such as their new chefs’ series. They also have Israeli-, Middle Eastern-, and Jewish-fusion flavors on offer. Along with their interesting home-grown offerings such as halva & pistachio, guava-mint, apricot-amaretto & almonds and lychee-ginger-pecan, they went to some of Israel’s well known chefs and asked them to come up with interesting flavor combinations:

Vanilla Ice Cream with Lavender and Lavender HoneyIsrael Aharoni (chef, restaurant owner, TV personality, food writer, cookbook author, eyebrow style model, and part-time DJ)

Poppy Seed Yeast Cake with Crème Pâtissière Ice Cream – Aviv Moshe (chef of Messa Chef Restaurant)

Mascarpone Ice Cream with Caramelised Pistachios, Baharat and Rosewater – Ronen Skinzes (chef of Manta Ray)

Black Coffee with Cardamom and Date HoneyChaim Cohen (chef, TV personality, owner of Dixie Grill Bar and consultant)

Cream Ice Cream with Forest Fruits, Nougatine and MeringueAyal Lavi (chef of Rokach 73)

My favorite of the chef ice creams were Israel Aharoni’s, Ronen Skinzes’ and Chaim Cohen’s. Iceberg will not disappoint you. Make sure you try their sorbets; the lychee-ginger-pecan is delicious.

Iceberg
Several locations in Tel Aviv: Ben Yehuda 108, Rothschild 31 and Ibn Gvirol 24
Iceberg Vulcano Cafe: Tel Aviv Port, Rishon Letzion, Ramat Hasharon and Hod Hasharon
Not kosher

Doro Gelateria

Doro, who markets itself as “Chef’s Ice Cream”, is the creation of pastry chef Doron Fishel and his business partner Oshri Azulay, who manages the shop. Doron studied the pastry arts and learned his craft in France, was pastry chef at Chloelys, custom-made ice cream for Herbert Samuel restaurant, and was also a manager of Arlekino (it should be spelled Arlecchino (harlequin), but Israelis are famous for mangling foreign names and words) ice cream shop before opening Doro.

Doro Gelato

Doro was recommended to me by one of my blog fans, and now I have to thank her and hate her at the same time for introducing me to some of the best ice cream I have tasted so far in Israel. Run, do not walk to Doro and try EVERYTHING!! The owner/manager, Oshri Azulay, is passionate about what he sells. So much so, he let me taste a few flavors that were not on offer that day. What I really like about Doro is that they are not afraid to experiment, they use fresh, all natural ingredients, and they do not skimp on anything.

Doro Gelato2

They make water-based and cream-based ice creams and rotate their flavors on a daily basis. So, you have to visit there more than once to really get a feel for all they have to offer. One of his regulars, who stops by three times a week, passed through while we were there.

Doro in a Cup

Some of the most interesting flavors we tried were:

  • Black sesame
  • Apples in cream with kadayif
  • Brazilian coffee with coffee beans and coconut
  • Pears in Merlot
  • Pear sorbet with arak and mint
  • Finchi — vanilla ice cream with salted chocolate
  • Kadayif

I think their passionfruit sorbet is some of the best I have ever had. Frankly, everything I tried was delicious.

Doron and Oshri had the bad luck to open Doro a short while before a big building project (to build a large underground car park, much needed in Tel Aviv) started almost touching distance from their front door, and as a result you have to walk down a narrow and crowded pavement, with a big corrugated wall blocking off one side of it, to get there. The result, Oshri told me, was that business dropped drastically. Even so, he said, people are coming specially from towns outside Tel Aviv because the place’s reputation has spread so rapidly. They are also thinking about opening additional branches, but insist on having a limited number of branches under their own management rather than more branches under franchise in order to ensure that their quality isn’t compromised.

Doro – Chef’s Ice Cream
Rothschild Boulevard 8
Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-5106664
Not kosher

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