Israelis develop a taste for goats’ and sheep’s milk cheeses



The people of Israel have a long history as shepherds. Many of our forefathers, among them Abraham, Moses and David, took care of their herds with the nurturing qualities that later proved crucial for leading the burgeoning Jewish nation.

While modern Israel today may lack the leaders of yore, they do not lack fine goat and sheep farmers.

As Israel becomes sophisticated gastronomically, consumers are favoring goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses over cow’s milk varieties. Unlike their bovine counterparts, most goats and sheep are free to roam and graze, antibiotics aren’t usually a part of their diet, the cheese and milk contain less lactose and the taste is unmistakably distinct.

As enthusiasm grows among consumers, Israeli cheesemakers have become more creative and also more hospitable, with many offering country dining with their delectable cheeses. Owned by some of Israel’s most interesting personalities, the following is a partial list of popular sheep and goat farms throughout Israel.

Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash (Land of Milk and Honey)

A favorite among locals and tourists is Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash, located on Moshav Nechalim in Petach Tikva, about 15 minutes from Ben-Gurion Airport. While it’s one of the most urban-tinged dairies, the atmosphere is quaint and relaxing, with Israeli background music mixing with chirping birds. A colorful, lush garden adorned with a fish pond opens to an outdoor patio with sheep grazing nearby.

Aharon Markovich, the personable founder who grew up on a religious-Zionist farm, decided to raise sheep rather than the more prevalent goats.

“Sheep milk doesn’t have the heavy aroma of goat cheese,” said Markovich, who is quick to offer a container of fresh sheep’s milk for customers to try. “Cow’s milk is flavorless.”

Markovich abides by the adage that rare is better. Sheep produce about half the amount of milk that goats produce, and the results truly are exquisite. The milk is sweet and creamy.

The Markovich dairy produces 40 different kinds of kosher cheeses — fresh, semihard, hard and ripened – but Markovich gets annoyed when people ask him to categorize his cheeses according to well-known kinds, such as Camembert, tomme or feta. While he has mostly taught himself traditional techniques, he refused to bow to European traditions. He makes original cheeses using unorthodox ingredients: wine, fig leaves, rosemary, bay leaves, to name a few additives and, of course, “lots of love and soul.”

The morning buffet brunch features flavored cheese balls, breads, Greek salad, roasted peppers, marinated eggplant and spicy carrots, but the highlight is the opportunity to create a cheese platter from among the dozens of cheeses sold at the deli.

Brunch: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (Friday brunch is closed to children under 12); deli: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (closed Shabbat and holidays). Kosher certified. For more information, call (011) 972-3-933-2797 or visit http://www.2eat.co.il/eretz.

Zook Farm

Located near the Ela Valley, not far from Beith Shemesh, the Zook Farm offers a taste of rustic Israel. Reaching the farm is an experience in and of itself. A kilometer-long road leads to picturesque, delightfully landscaped outdoor seating areas adorned with roses and vines. At the Zook Farm cafe, open to the public on weekends, cheeses and homemade delicacies are served on red-and-white checkered picnic tablecloths at a site overlooking the barns and bushy hills.

The Zook brothers, Yiftach and Tomer, grew up on a farm and are now at the helm of a fraternal food dynasty. Their other brother is culinary star Nir Zook, the namesake of the famous Zook Compound in Jaffa, home to the exclusive Cordelia restaurant. The Zook Compound is the only venue aside from the Zook Farm where the Zook brothers’ cheeses are sold to the public.

A delightful brunch experience goes for NIS 100 ($24) per person, and it includes homemade merlot and high-grade cheeses made from whole goat’s milk: delicate tzfatit; brittle, aged Roquefort; and earthy tomme. Cheeses come with an array of dips and appetizers, including labane, feta cheese spread, eggplant in cream, artichokes, roasted peppers, fennel, hummus and tahina. Scrumptious gingerbread cookies and coffee top off the meal, which is best followed with a walk along the surrounding prairies.

Open Fridays, Saturdays and holidays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For information, call (011) 972-54-523-9117/8 or visit http://www.mitchatnim.co.il/mem/havat_tzuk/.

Goat Path

A new addition to the goat farm landscape of Israel, Goat Path, was founded about a year ago by the Saban and Einy families, who make a large variety of whole milk goat products: gouda, cheddar, emmental, labane, yogurts and yogurt drinks. A lovely country cafe in a wooden cabin is open on weekends. Visitors are welcome to visit the goat pens and tour the wineries and boutique shops in the Tal Shakhar farm, where the dairy is located not far from Beit Shemesh.

Fridays, holiday eves, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Shabbat and holidays: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sundays-Thursdays (limited menu): 8 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, call (011) 972-52-258-9900 or (011) 972-8-949-5964.

Kornmehl Farm

Located in the Negev, overlooking ancient farm ruins, Kornmehl farm was founded in 1997 by husband-and-wife team Anat and Daniel Kornmehl, both graduates of the agricultural science department at Hebrew University. Daniel Kornmehl studied cheesemaking in both France and Israel, and the farm employs the French cheesemaking tradition, while preserving the unique flavors of the Israeli desert. Cheese varieties include their version of tomme, Camembert and Brie.
Visitors are welcome to watch the afternoon milking at 4:30 p.m. and learn about the cheesemaking process.

Cheeses are sold daily from10 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, call (011) 972-8-655-5140 or 011-972-52-2788051.

Sataf: Shai Seltzer

Shai Seltzer, a fixture in the Israel cheesemaking community with his famous long, white beard, is certainly a candidate for the godfather of modern Israeli goat cheesemaking. This Israeli veteran and award-winning goat farmer and cheesemaker has been raising goats for the past 32 years in one of the most beautiful areas in Israel: Sataf in the Jerusalem hills. Following ancient tradition, the gourmet cheeses are aged in a dark cave, and they are sold only on-site on weekends, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.goat-cheese.co.il.

Reviving a Shul, One Goat at a Time


Note to future rabbis: If you want to make a lasting firstimpression with your congregants, nothing beats farm animals on thebimah. Just ask anyone at Temple Adat Shalom in West LosAngeles. It’s been almost four months since Michael Resnick took overthere, and they’re still talking about his goats.

Mort Schrag, the congregation’s president, put it succinctly: “Hereally has a lot of unique approaches.”

Resnick trotted the two goats out in front of the congregationduring his sermon on Yom Kippur. Earlier that week, he was driving tohis parents’home in Northridge, wondering how he could bring thebiblical concept of the scapegoat — recounted in the holiday’s Torahportion — alive for his congregants. He passed a petting zoo thatadvertised animal rentals.

Fast-forward to Yom Kippur. Resnick lays out a waterproof tarp onthe bimah — one of the goats is called Tinkle, a name based purelyon reputation. The rabbi takes a long dagger from his lectern andthen, in accordance with the biblical narrative, draws lots todetermine which goat will be slaughtered for the sins of thecongregation, and which will be set free. Amid nervous laughter andrapt silence, some 700 congregants watch the tall, commanding40-year-old grasp the doomed goat, raise its neck, and draw the bladeacross its throat.

“Don’t worry,” says the rabbi, patting the animal’s head andputting aside the dagger, which is just a letter opener. “We’re notgoing to hurt this little goat.” The point of the exercise, he tellsthe assembly, is that “no one can make atonement for ourtransgressions but ourselves.”

Whether the congregation took the sermon to heart is hard to tell– until next Yom Kippur. But there is no question that the new rabbigot congregants’ attention. And that, as any rabbi in the late 20thcentury will tell you, is at least half the battle.

“Whatever I can do to make the traditions come alive and berelevant,” Resnick says during an interview in his office, “I’lltry.”

The creative approach seems to fit the youthful, energetic rabbi.A native of Sepulveda, he attended Har Zion Synagogue (it has sincemerged with Temple Ramat Zion) but stopped his Jewish education atage 13. After graduating from Cal State Northridge, he embarked on acareer in advertising. But a visit to Israel during the Gulf Warinspired him to change course. He attended the Pardes Institutethere, then returned to the States to study and receive hisordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He took the pulpit of Adat Shalom in August, replacing therecently retired Rabbi Morton Wallach, who served there for 24 years.Demographic shifts had been tough on the 50-year-old Conservativeshul, whose modern structure sits on a prime block of Westside realestate across from Trader Joe’s market on National Boulevard. AdatShalom has been losing members for the past six years. About 250families and individuals belong to the congregation now, down from apeak of 450. The decline also plunged the shul into a series offinancial crises. “We need to energize the congregation and attractyoung families,” said Schrag.

Resnick, then, seems the perfect fit. In his final year at JTS, heserved as rabbi to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Manhattan. “Therewere 500 people over 90 years old. I did 150 funerals,” he says. Buthe also learned to lead inspiring, song-filled services, based, inpart, on his experience at such lively New York congregations asB’nai Jeshurun, which draws hundreds of young people to Shabbatservices.

The rabbi is working to create some of that same magic on theWestside. “When Judaism is made relevant and alive and exciting,people respond. People are looking for a sense of belonging, arelationship with their tradition,” he said.

Along with a new rabbi, the synagogue also hired a new cantor,Ralph Resnick. The two are not related, but members have startedreferring to their shul as Resnick & Resnick.

On Sukkot, both rabbi and cantor joined with a klezmer band tolead congregants in the procession with the Torah, and provided icecream sundaes for the children. The issue of whether to have music inConservative ceremonies is a touchy one, but Rabbi Resnick sees thevalue in raising it. “I want people to wrestle with what it means tobe a Jew. I can’t force anyone to keep kosher, but I can challengethem.”

Resnick also wants to create social-action programs and developbonds with local non-Jewish congregations. He hopes to create ascholar-in-residence program and build up the temple’s preschool andreligious school, which now have about 80 children.

“I want Judaism to be surprising,” says the rabbi.