Milking it: Israel leads the way in dairy tech

Decades ago Israeli dairy farmers confronted a quandary – how could they provide milk to a fast-growing population in a country that is two-thirds desert, with little grazing land?

They turned to technology, developing equipment that boosted output – from cooling systems to milk meters and biometrics – and have made Israeli cows the most productive in the world.

Science rules today, with cows' health, output, genetics and fertility closely monitored by management systems. In kibbutzes, or communal farms, across the country, they line up by the dozens to enter climate-controlled sheds, awaiting the latest innovations in robotic milking that drive up efficiency.

This has put the country's agricultural tech, and the companies that provide it, in demand around the world as – with populations and dairy consumption on the rise – traditional farming methods are no longer cutting it.

Smallholder and grazing farms are, for the most part, not competitive. Large, mechanised farms that intensely monitor production and maximise yields are the order of the day.

In the United States, for example, milk production has risen by almost half since 1970, even though the number of cows has declined by about a quarter.

Developing countries, particularly in Asia, want to upgrade their outdated dairy industries and are looking to Israel for products and expertise. So are foreign investors hoping to stay ahead of the curve.

India is the biggest milk producer in the world, but most of it comes from farmers with few resources. Average production levels per cow are low, to the frustration of policymakers.

“We're missing a huge export opportunity to Europe and other countries,” said Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra state, who came to Israel to find a solution.

“I think with Israeli technology we can take our farms to the next level.”

In Vietnam, a group of Israeli companies led by systems developer Afimilk is building a $200 million dairy farm, one of the largest projects of its kind in the world. It will eventually supply half the milk in Vietnam.

Israeli agriculture has benefited from a boom in the country's wider hi-tech industry, which has become a major growth engine and investment magnet. The country leads the OECD when it comes to R&D, spending 4.3 percent of GDP on it, nearly twice the OECD average, according to Ernst & Young.

Companies often tap into the skills of workers trained in the military or intelligence sectors and start-ups benefit from tax breaks and government funding.


The global market for dairy farming technologies is worth about $850 million a year, according to industry sources. Israel exports in the sector totalled $110 million in 2014, up 7 percent rise from a year earlier, according to the country's export institute.

Software company Akol runs a database that monitors the output, health, genetics and fertility of every cow in Israel. The database helped lift productivity to a world record of 12,083 kg per cow in 2014. By comparison, in the United States the average was 10,097 kg.

Akol has partnered with Microsoft in a joint venture to bring the technology to the developing world.

“We understood that to reach the world we need a strong cloud computing system that analyses every component of the quality of the milk. Microsoft saw this could be a breakthrough,” said Akol Chief Executive Ron Shani.

He would not disclose how much the software giant invested in the venture, but Akol has put in more than $10 million.

Start-up miRobot wants to take milking to the next level and says it has developed a prototype of an inexpensive, lightweight robotic arm that can clean, stimulate and attach the milking pump to the cow's udder entirely on its own. It can be added on to existing systems, cutting the need for extra manpower.

Such Israeli technologies have not gone unnoticed.

France-based Allflex, a designer of animal identification systems with factories in the United States, Brazil, New Zealand and China, bought Israeli milking technology company SCR in December for $250 million.

In another vote of confidence, China's vast Bright Food conglomerate bought Tnuva, Israel's largest dairy firm, for $1.1 billion earlier this year.

“The macro conditions, are very favourable for Israel's dairy tech industry,” said Arama Kukutai, managing director of California-based Finistere Ventures that has a $150 million agtech fund. “The country's high-tech pedigree extends into agriculture, and we've been looking at opportunities to invest.” 

A kosher kitchen compromise

My boyfriend of four years and I finally decided to move in together. But there was one problem: What to do about the kitchen.

Dov was raised in a Conservative Jewish household in Los Angeles where milk and meat never mixed. I grew up in a Reform home in New York where chicken kebabs were marinated in yogurt and saffron. When we spent our weekends apartment hunting in Manhattan, we looked not at the brownstones before us but stood stuck on the sidewalk debating whether our new kitchen would include my great-grandmother’s Descoware Dutch oven.

“Well, the pot is not kosher because it’s been passed down through non-kosher homes,” Dov said.

“Does it matter?” I argued. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. I’ll store it in a separate area of our kitchen.”

“But then our kitchen wouldn’t be kosher,” he said sadly.

I had imagined that moving in with my boyfriend might include the delightfully self-indulgent arguments from romantic comedies. I pictured purging outfits from my closet to make room for “his stuff” and paring down the nine perfume bottles that adorned my vanity. But I found the one boyfriend who wanted me to clean out my kitchen cabinets.

Before I met Dov in my mid-20s, my interaction with kosher food was limited to Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs. My Iranian mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, converted to Judaism when she married my dad. My parents spent their weekends shimmying past one another in the kitchen as herbs and beef sauteed on one burner and rice steamed on another. Although we mostly ate Persian food, my parents could cook anything.

Sure, we ate traditional Jewish foods around the holidays, but my feelings toward those dishes were somewhat similar to the way Nora Ephron described her tzimmes recipe: the medley of sweet potatoes, carrots and dried fruit “is delicious with a pork roast.” In our home, tzimmes was served alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding during our traditional Christmas Eve dinner with our longtime Jewish friends.

I had started cooking as a teenager, making chicken cutlets stuffed with prosciutto and spinach-and-meat-and-cheese lasagna. Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali were like my surrogate Italian aunt and uncle, and I browned and broiled my way enthusiastically through their Food Network shows.

But when I met Dov, I realized that even though our interests aligned on nearly everything, I lamented that he would never be able to try my specialty — chicken parmesan.

“Well, you can make it with non-dairy cheese,” he said brightly.

Milk and meat lived so harmoniously in my kitchen — and my stomach — that the thought of separating the two rattled my belief system more than I would have anticipated. Could  I embrace kashrut for Dov? After all, he knew that I would never be one to keep Shabbat, so he’d altered his lifestyle from keeping the tradition. He also moved to New York City to be with me, despite his love for living in California. So maybe I could bend, too.  There was a chance I might even enjoy it.

No such luck. A year into our relationship, I roasted my first-ever chicken — a kosher one — in my inaugural attempt into treating meat and milk like separate lovers. I turned to Ina Garten’s perfect roast chicken recipe for guidance. I followed the directions so closely that without thinking twice, I threw a half stick of butter on the stove to melt. I stood over my beautifully stuffed kosher chicken holding a spoonful of culinary liquid gold.  Then I saw the flying cow image on the Horizon Organic butter wrapper and I panicked: Until that moment, I’d never considered butter dairy, but a class unto itself, like tofu. Separating these two food groups felt deeply unnatural; it was like seasoning a dish with just salt and not pepper.

Still, despite those disasters, Dov still wanted to share a home with separate sets of everything — pots, pans, plates and silverware. I understood that kashrut was key to Dov’s Judaism. But eating kebabs with rice and yogurt was key to mine. Granted, I didn’t have the Talmud behind me, but I had the “Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” And even though keeping kosher was consistent throughout generations of Dov’s family, why didn’t the recipes and cookware that were passed down through my family — major aspects of my heritage as a multicultural Jew — carry the same weight?

So we did what most stubborn 20-somethings would do: We compromised on a “kosher-ish” kitchen. No separate sets of dishware, and my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven would be grandfathered into our new home. We would use glass plates (a kosher get-out-of-jail-free card, if you will, as they don’t “absorb” meat or dairy). No shrimp or pork in the house, which I could accept, since these are the only forbidden foods I admire but am particularly unskilled at preparing.

But it was still the fundamental request that made me almost lose my appetite.

“Could we please avoid mixing meat and dairy?” Dov asked. “I’m just too uncomfortable combining the two. Could we keep all the recipes that have been in your family that don’t combine meat and milk, since there are so many?”

I fell in love with Dov for reasons that had little to do with religion. He was brilliant, thoughtful and a stellar guitar player who already traded in his rock star aspirations for law school applications by the time we met. But I also admired his respect for tradition. If I cooked yogurt-marinated kebabs in our shared kitchen, he wouldn’t eat them.  I wasn’t moving in with my boyfriend to eat dinner alone.

Regardless, I found it tremendously difficult to hold myself to the standard that I was expecting of Dov.

“He can live with one set of glass dishes, but I need to round out the flavors in my Bolognese sauce with two tablespoons of butter,” I thought to myself, simultaneously committed to my rationale and yet embarrassed by my childish obstinance.

“We can try,” I said. And as we unpacked all our stuff — my nine perfume bottles spread out untouched across the vanity, our new glass dishes in the kitchen next to my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven — I understood that it was compromise, not kashrut, that we would have to work on: to be less like the families we came from and more like the family we would create together.

Letters to the Editor: Milk, languages, kindergarten, breakfast, philanthropy

More on Milk

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is restirring a tempest in a glass of milk (“How Kosher Is Your Milk,” June 22). This issue was addressed in great detail in the fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society in the article “The Kashrut of Commercially Sold Milk” by Rabbi Michoel Zylberman. The conclusion of the article:

“In the contemporary situation, there appears to be no credible evidence that a majority of dairy cows harbor adhesions. It is, however, quite likely that a prevalent minority (mi’ut hamatzui) of cows have terefot, such that more than 1.6% of milk that gets mixed together comes from such cows. To date, while a few individuals have stopped drinking commercially sold milk, major kashrut organizations have endorsed the continued consumption of milk, following the implication in Shulchan Aruch that we may assume that every individual cow comes from the majority of cows that are kosher, even if such an assumption contradicts a statistical reality.”

Rabbi Israel Hirsch
Valley Village

A Lesson in Languages

In your June 22 issue’s Letter From Egypt by Al-Qotb (“Egypt’s Election: An Argument Without Resolution”), you identified Al-Qotb (“The Writer”) as a pseudonym for The Jewish Journal’s Egyptian correspondent. Al-Qotb (correctly Al-Kotb or Al-Kootb) means “The Books,” and the Arabic name for anyone who writes is Al-Kaatb or Al-Kaateb, depending on one’s dialect. The proper letter (binyan in Hebrew) to use in this instance is “K-T-B” not “Q-T-B”. There is no equivalence in the English language nor in modern Hebrew for the Arabic letter “Q.” The best illustration would be in pronouncing the Hebrew letter “kaf” gutturally as in the case of the letter “khaf.” Quick pronunciation illustration is in the name of the leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and ’60s, Sayyid Qutb — Qutb could mean pole or region, as in the North Pole or the South Pole, but Kutb signifies books.

Ed Elhaderi
Los Angeles

Kindergartens of Hate

Micah Halpern’s piece is profoundly disturbing (“Finishing School,” June 22). It states that Arab children in Gaza and the West Bank are taught to hate Jews and to aspire only to slaughter them as a duty of their Islamic faith. This despite 20 years of a “peace process” that earned Nobel Peace Prizes for its originators. I suppose the indoctrination of Jew-hatred, not to mention the suicide bombings, rockets and turning children into murderous robots described by Halpern only proves, as then-President Clinton said in late 2000, that “the peace process hasn’t gone far enough.”

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Synagogue Breakfast

Last week’s calendar section mentioned a dog-walking tour for June 24. It did not mention the 20th anniversary breakfast of Congregation Bais Naftoli honoring Zvi Hollander and Dr. A. Richard Grossman. At this breakfast, not only will the Israeli and Hungarian consuls general attend, but also two members of Congress, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the city attorney and controller, four members of the City Council and two members of the state Assembly.

Why does the canine event take precedence?

Andrew Friedman
Congregation Bais Naftoli

Editor’s note: The Jewish Journal calendar desk did not receive notice about the Congregation Bais Naftoli breakfast. Please send all event notifications at least three weeks in advance to

Philanthropic Teens

It came as no surprise to me that a cross-section of community schools participated in National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) philanthropy project (“Philanthropy Project Puts Teens in Charge,” June 8). NCSY has been breaking down barriers to Jewish involvement for quite some time with creative programs geared to young people from all spheres. 

My wife, Sara, and I [spent] a magical Shabbat with NCSYers at their regional Shabbaton in Woodland Hills recently. The diversity of the participants was amazing. There were kids from public schools, Jewish schools, Yachad for special needs, all singing, clapping, standing on chairs with a thunderous spirit that was inspirational and meaningful.

The philanthropy project was a good chance to bring to light the creativity NCSY displays in reaching out to all kids with the goal of bringing them closer to Judaism.

Ron Solomon
Executive Director
American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, Western Region

An article on a project exploring Los Angeles history (“UCLA Mapping Project Goes Back to the Future,” June 22) did not mention that the “Mapping Jewish L.A.” display of the digital project at the Autry National Center of the American West will be part of the larger exhibition “Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic,” scheduled to open at the museum in May 2013.

Temple B’nai Hayim’s Rabbi Beryl Padorr is not retiring (“Ner Maarav to Merge With Ramat Zion,” June 15).

The goat herd: A story of chevre, Shavuot and backyard goats [RECIPE]

The most common question people ask when they visit our home is: “Why the goats?”

We live in the city. A few houses west of us, four lanes of Lincoln

Boulevard traffic roar past day and night. Planes from cursed Santa Monica Airport buzz overhead. And on any given night, sometime between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., an LAPD helicopter will make sure to flood our bedroom with its searchlight. It’s Venice, man.

Two years ago, into this urban landscape, I brought our first goat.

Yes, I said goat. Yes, I said first.

My daughter and I were at John’s Feed, buying chickens. John’s, I assume, is a holdover from the days when Huntington Park was surrounded by farmland; there is no other reason for a ramshackle feed store in the midst of a treeless landscape of warehouses and strip malls. 

John’s Feed stockpiles the chickens that end up next door at a live butcher shop called La Princesa. I usually buy chickens there for egg-laying. They are already full-grown, and I get the added pleasure of taking a creature off death row. On this day, when my daughter and I showed up, we noticed that, in the same crowded, feces-filled pen with the chickens, stood one miserable goat.

She was standing on her hind legs, straining to look out the window to the street.

We took her.

But why have goats? I often wonder if it’s in my blood. Eskimos have 30 words for snow. Jews have more than a dozen words for goat. You and I are generations removed from our agrarian ancestors, but their relationship with the world’s first domesticated animal lives on in our language. Azmaveth and tsaphir are he-goats. Gaddiel, a holy goat. Gedi, a young goat. Jaala and seirah are young she-goats. Ez, a she goat. Tayish, a butting he goat. Uzzah, a strong goat. Zibiah and aqqo, zemer, dishon and yael — mountain and desert goats. Ancient Jews depended on goat meat and milk for food; they slept in goat-hair tents. Their closeness created empathy: Jews were revolted by the thought of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and so, today, we can’t eat cheeseburgers. There is a Hebrew word for hell: azazel, familiar to us from Yom Kippur. It translates literally as “lost goat.” Hell, for Hebrew, was when you lost your goat.

The Christians saw goats as the devil. The apostles saw themselves as sheep and Jesus as their shepherd.

Sheep huddle together and look to the shepherd for direction. Goats are stubborn and willful. The word capricious, meaning picky and discerning, comes from the Latin capro, for goat. Goats break fences and, thus, rules. Sheep are grazers, content to munch the grass at their feet. Goats are browsers — they refuse the grass and strive to eat the trees and bushes just beyond their reach.

Goats are deeply communal, bonded to one another. Sheep run, goats stand their ground. (Thoroughbred trainers used to calm their skittish horses by placing a fearless goat in their stall. To throw a race, you would sneak into the stall at night and get someone’s goat. A cliché was born.)

Story continues after the jump.

Rob Eshman’s goats: Ollie, left, and Goldie Horn

In Matthew 25:33, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus tells how he will judge nations when he returns: “And [Jesus] will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on his left.” Sheep go to heaven, goats to hell. The horns Christians imagined on Jewish heads did not make them look like the devil: They made them look like goats.

Is it any wonder that goat beside the butcher shop called out to me? It’s not just that I couldn’t see her ending up as birria — Mexican goat stew — or chavito — split, grilled goat. It’s that we shared cultural DNA.

I had driven my wife’s Prius to John’s Feed Store that day. The goat, a black-and-white Nigerian pygmy about the size of a small spaniel, went into a cardboard box and into the trunk. Somewhere on the 110 Freeway North, I heard a crash. Her two devilish horns had busted the packing tape, and I drove home with a goat in the rear view mirror.

We named her Goldie Horn. When my wife arrived home from a work trip, she found her car had been completely waxed outside and detailed inside. She said I was the nicest husband in the world. Then she saw the goat.

We moved Goldie into a spacious side yard. But goats, every goat book informed me, care about two things: food and companionship. See, I explained to my wife, they are Jewish. Soon my daughter and I visited a goat rescue and returned with a dun-colored mutt goat we named Ollie.

But why goats, people still ask.

To which I often answer: Why not? Nobody walks into your house and asks, “Why dogs?” even if your pet is not fit to protect, or hunt, or even play. No one asks, “Why fish?” though you can’t eat them, or, “Why canaries?” though they don’t lay eggs. And no one asks, “Why cats?”— except me.

Goats don’t bark or scratch. In our urban ecosystem, their odorless pellets work like plant steroids, replacing the need to buy fertilizer. They come when I call them, will stand on two legs for treats and enjoy a good scratch. As I write this, Goldie is rubbing her head against the card table I’ve set up in my backyard. In a moment, I’ll let her butt the palm of my hand.  It’s a game we play.

It is weird, I know, but it really isn’t.

On Sunday mornings, I use a broom and dustbin to scoop up the layer of goat pellets, crushed dry hay and soil that carpets the animal pen. The dust plumes up and coats my face and fills my nostrils. It’s a fantastic smell — exactly like a fine unlit cigar passed under your nose. Next time someone is reaching for words to describe their $200 Cohiba, just say, “Hay, dust and goat s—-.”

I don’t even mind when I forget to feed them first thing in the morning. I have to go out after I’ve showered and dressed in my suit, carrying a slice of timothy hay, their pebbly poops squishing under my black polished shoes. I can see my wife, Naomi, at the window, watching — just like she did at the window of the Mendocino B&B one morning of our honeymoon when she saw me down by the shore tasting the seaweed. It’s a look that says, “Who, exactly, did I marry?”

I don’t tell her that when they break out of their pen and tiptoe into my study, Goldie always tries to nip a page from the same book — one of Naomi’s ancient Hebrew treatises on Jewish mysticism.

These goats, I swear to her, have made me a better Jew. Abraham, Itzhak, Yaakov, Moses and David were not scholars or preachers. They were the original men who stare at goats. Not surprisingly, the cycles of our holidays play out according to the cycles of these animals. That’s especially true now, during the holiday of Shavuot. 

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It’s traditional to eat dairy foods like cheesecake and blintzes during the festival. The rabbis will tell you that’s because Torah is like mother’s milk to us. But my goats teach me something different.

Goldie and Ollie have been fixed. But when spring arrives, Ollie still yearns after Goldie, and a long-dead urge reawakens, and he tries. If they weren’t city goats, rescued from other people’s appetites, Goldie would be kidding now, her milk flowing. There would be more than we could drink, and we would be making cheese, and out of the cheese, blintzes.

The first milk the Hebrews drank, the first simple cheese they made, came from goats.

“Why goats?” people ask, and then they answer their own question with another: “Do you milk them?”

No, but a few months ago, my goats inspired me to take a cheese-making class from Steve Rudicel, owner of Mariposa Creamery in Altadena, the only goat dairy in Los Angeles. Rudicel, a young, sturdy farmer type, started the class with a brief explanation.

“Milk needs to be small,” he said. “Milk needs to be local. Seek out quality dairy ingredients. It makes a big difference in the lives of the animals. The hardest-working part of the dairy farm is the animals. We’ve lost respect for the animals.”

Rudicel paused. 

“Goats are some of the sweetest creatures I’ve ever met,” he went on. “I’m often moved by the milk we make.”

In front of about 75 people, Rudicel had to stop to compose himself. 

“Why goats?” That’s the answer. These animals start out in your blood, but they quickly make their way to your heart.


Fresh goat cheese is one of the easiest foods you can make. It takes five minutes of active cooking time, over two days. And its taste is far superior to the standard logs of chevre cheese product available in gourmet stores.
All specialty items are available by mail-order at


Good liquid thermometer
Large spoon
Large, clean pot
Cheese maker’s muslin or molds


1 gallon pasteurized goat milk (I use Summerhill Dairy, which is readily available at Trader Joe’s. It costs $3 quart, or $12 a gallon, which yields just over 1 pound of goat cheese.)
1/8 teaspoon MM100 or MM101 starter cultures 
3 drops vegetable rennet
1/4 cup spring or distilled (not tap) water 

Heat milk gently to 74 degrees F.

Add a scant 1/8 teaspoon starter culture and stir for two minutes.

Dissolve rennet in spring water. Add to milk and stir for 2 minutes.

Drape a towel over pot and leave at room temperature for 12 to 20 hours. The curds are ready when they appear solidified and liquid whey floats on top. 

Ladle curds into cheese maker’s muslin, tie around a wooden spoon or dowel and suspend over a pot. Allow to drip at room temperature overnight. Or, you can ladle into cheese molds and allow to drain overnight.

Unwrap cheese, sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with great olive oil, and it’s ready to eat. You can also stir in seasonings (salt, chives, etc.), then cover and refrigerate.

Makes slightly more than 1 pound of cheese, enough to fill about 6 chevre molds.

Tnuva drops Brooklyn distributor following labor campaign

Tnuva, Israel’s largest dairy company, said it will not renew its contract with its Brooklyn distributor, which is accused of underpaying workers and firing employees illegally.

A campaign by organized labor and Jewish groups had urged Tnuva to break from Flaum Appetizing, which distributes the Israeli firm’s cheese in the United States and also produces hummus.

The National Labor Board ruled in 2009 that Flaum abused workers by paying them below minimum wage without overtime and firing workers who complained about workplace conditions.

The ruling ordered that Flaum pay $270,000 in restitutions. Flaum has appealed, arguing that it is not obligated to pay back wages to undocumented immigrants. According to Flaum officials, Tnuva accounted for less than 20 percent of the distributor’s business.

“This is an important step,” Ari Hart told the Daily News. Hart is founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox group that encourages “ethically kosher” or “yosher” products. “I think Tnuva heard loud and clear the voices of kosher consumers and Jewish leaders.”

In August after a protest led by Uri L’Tzedek, Tnuva USA issued a statement to JTA saying that the company had “received assurances from Flaum’s management that Flaum … abides by all legal requirements,” and urged Flaum to “act judiciously and fast to solve their internal matters.”

In June, a nationwide boycott of Tnuva’s goods in Israel prompted the food company to reduce the price of cottage cheese by 20 percent.

Israeli dairy cows produce most milk

Israeli dairy cows produce more milk than dairy cows do in other countries.

The Israeli dairy cows produced an average of nearly 2,642 gallons of milk a year in 2009, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Monday. Some 344, 480 gallons of milk was produced by Israeli cows in 2010.

By comparison, dairy cows in the United States produce 2, 465 gallons of milk per year and European Union cows 1, 622 gallons per year, according to the Jerusalem Post.

There is an estimated 25 percent increase in the purchase of dairy products by Israelis in the days leading up to Shavuot, when Jews traditionally eat dairy holiday meals.

A cow from Kibbutz Karmia near Gaza was named the highest milk-producer for the second year in a row, giving more than 20,000 liters or about 5,283 gallons of milk in one year.

There are 125,000 dairy cows in Israel, and that the average Israeli consumes about 45 gallons of dairy products a year.

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

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

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

A Letter

To: My vegetarian husband

From: His guilt-ridden wife, who keeps falling off the vegetable cart

We are both rabbis. We’ve studied the same texts. We’ve turned the same verses over and over, examining them like gems under a magnifying glass, full of refractions of color and light. We both understand it was only after Noah’s sacrificial offerings God said, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses.” The sanction on eating meat given the moment after God realizes, “the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth.” Perhaps that was the violence God saw Noah’s generation commit? The carnivorous drive of both man and beast which horrified heaven so that the ducts of the deep were opened and the land welled over with torrential tears.

We have both turned over the verse, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” In this week’s Torah portion, the verse follows verses on sacrifice, festal offerings and choice first fruits. Biblical scholars understand it to be referring to ancient Egyptian sacrifices, not necessarily how we prepare our food. But we’ve also drunk from the Talmud, and been fed by the commentators, who understand it as a prohibition against cooking milk and meat. We’ve encountered into the fences built around that law.

You remember all the late nights when I was finishing my rabbinic thesis, “Animal Sacrifice and the Continual Offering in the Second Temple Period.” In my studies, I learned that the deep-rooted instinct to sacrifice grew out of basic archaic taboos on eating flesh, and the need to reconcile mortal frailties with the gods upon whom man believed his well-being depended. After the flood, meat-eating is God’s concession to an imperfect mankind, and man being acutely aware of his imperfection, and ashamed before the Creator for his hunger for flesh, attempts to elevate the entire process, legitimizing it by turning the animal into an offering. God, apologetically, is invited to the table. I remember what Jacob Milgrom wrote in “Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology”: “Man will have meat for his food and he will kill to get it. At least let us not let him dehumanize himself in the process.”

I remember when we were dating, I felt ashamed when I had a hot dog. I would have a stick of spearmint gum, like a smoker, before seeing you. When I was pregnant, I wanted my body to be like Eden for our child, where only the fruit of most trees and the green of the earth were food, where there was no killing — an idyllic serenity of species cohabiting. But my body craved more iron than spinach could provide.

I love that there are never bones in our kitchen. I love that when you take me to kosher vegetarian restaurants, I can close my eyes and point to anything on the menu and know it will be fresh, healthy and good. The children wake to the smell of kosher vegetarian bacon. Chicken-less nuggets are packed in their lunches.

I try, when confronted with a burger to remember the starry eyes of the little cow in our daughter’s book: “It’s time for sleep little calf, little calf. What happened today that made you laugh?” I try to eat low on the food chain: fish before chicken before beef. And then Friday nights the preschool presents trays of savory cholent.

In the end of this week’s Torah portion, it is written, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and they ate and drank. The gods of Uruk were served two meals a day. Giant feasts were dedicated to the goddess of Mesopotamia. In Egypt, the gods were served even grander feasts, which would then provide food for the entire staff and sometimes the whole city. Here, instead of throwing themselves upon their faces in reverence, the Israelite leaders also play host, inviting God to the table.”

Judaism is a step-by-step religion. It awaits no superhero, but commands the efforts of our own hands. It recognizes our yetzer hara (evil inclination), and teaches us to harness it. It understands we crave meat and instead of saying don’t eat it, commands us to not mix death with life, to separate out the blood which is its life force, and to not mix it with milk which represents birth and life. To mix them is to accept the world as it is. Fragmented, haphazard, where people die suddenly or too slowly, too young, death and life at random. Rather, we separate them, indicating everything should happen in its proper time. To everything there is a season. And some day, God-willing, there will be that final season, when every day is Shabbat, when we reenter Eden.

Until that day, I repent, and attempt, and repent, and attempt again to express my adoration, God, for Your wild, bristling and breathing world. Until that day, when the lioness with the heart of a lamb will lay down peacefully with her lamb, who has the giant heart of a lion.

Read Rabbi Jonathan Klein’s response in First Person on March 3.


Kids Page

The Dairy Queen

Do you like ice cream? Cheesecake? Blintzes?

Well, Shavuot is the holiday for you. That’s when the dairy queen grants us our wish: to eat all the sweetest, milkiest foods we want. The rabbis tell us one reason for this custom: The Jews did not eat kosher meat until they learned about it in the Torah. Once the Torah was given, they realized that their dishes and pots were still non-kosher from previous use. Until they could get new ones, the Jewish people ate only dairy.

Piece of Cake

No-Bake Cheese Cake


1 large package of graham crackers

3 containers of soft cream cheese

1 cup of milk

1 package of vanilla pudding

1. Combine the cream cheese, milk and vanilla pudding together in a mixing bowl.

2. Use a mixer to combine the ingredients (make sure to have an adult help you).

3. While the mixer is mixing, take the graham crackers and line the bottom of a large tray so that they completely cover the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the mix on top of the graham crackers and refrigerate. It will thicken in the refrigerator overnight and be ready in the morning.

You can use different flavored puddings and add any topping you like: fruit, nuts, chocolate sauce — mmmmm.