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