It’s no secret that some of the most famous cheeses in the world come from France, Italy, and Switzerland. Although you won’t immediately think of Israel when it comes to cheeses, you may be surprised that it is a nation of cheese makers – and cheese lovers!
It’s no doubt that Israelis love dairy so much that at one point they were prepared to stage protests over a cottage cheese price hike by industry leaders (such as Tnuva) and the giant supermarket chains.
But if there was one good thing that came out from this cheese price war, it was the increase of artisanal cheese-making businesses across the country. And the trend continues to grow. There is an array of interesting cheeses that use cow, sheep, and goat’s milk. And these cheeses can be found pretty much everywhere in Israel – from the trendy supermarkets to the outdoor markets to the boutique dairies.
Especially around the Shavuot festival, where eating, preparing, cooking and baking with dairy is customary, the popular cheese shops across the country are stocking their shelves with various kinds of cheeses and other dairy products for the occasion.
Cheese making is, no doubt, an enduring industry in Israel. There are tried-and-true cheeses such as Tzfatit, a type of hard cheese form Tzfat (Safed). Newer creations and innovations have been introduced. For instance, there’s baked Camembert with a mixture of dried herbs (herbs de Provence), made by a family-run dairy in Moshav Tzippori, Lower Galilee.
The following lists some of the most popular types of Israeli cheeses, in alphabetical order
1. Brinza cheese
An Arab semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk. It has about 15% in fat content and can be used in cooking
2. Bulgarit (Bulgarian cheese)
Bulgarit is one of the popular cheeses in Israel. Balkan in origin, Bulgarit is a lot like feta, but saltier. It has around 5% to 28% fat content. When any recipe calls for feta cheese (or any white cheese), Bulgarit works well in them.
3. Canan cheese
Another white cheese, Canan has around 5% fat content. There’s no additional salt too, which makes it perfect for baking (think of cheesecakes!). Canan also one of the more expensive cheeses, so expect to shell about 45 NIS per kilo.
4. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese has a mild flavor. The whey has been separated, leaving the curds. This type of cottage cheese is drained as opposed to pressed (like paneer, a cottage cheese from India). Cottage cheese can be eaten in many ways – by itself; with salt and pepper; with fruit or sugar; with cinnamon and granola; as ingredient for several salads and other dishes; as topping for toast, pizza and pasta; as a dip; as a substitute for mayonnaise in tuna salad or any other recipe that calls for mayonnaise. Cottage cheese has about 3% fat content. A cottage cheese “price war” occurred a few years ago, which resulted in the decrease of cottage cheese prices.
5. Emek cheese
Emek is a type of hard, light-yellow, mildly flavored cheese that’s popular in Israel. Since it was first introduced in 1942, the recipe has not changed. It is derived from cow’s milk and has a 28% fat content. It can be used as a sandwich filling and on toast, pizza, pasta, pashtidot (crustless quiche), souffles and cheese sauces.
6. Galil blue cheese
Tnuva is the largest food manufacturer in Israel, with its sales accounting for 70% of the country’s dairy, egg, meat and processed food products. “Galil” is Tnuva’s brand name for its Roquefort-style cheese, made from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk Like most types of blue cheese, Galil goes great with thick country-style bread, apples, grapes and walnuts. It is paired best with sweet dessert wines. If you are not turned off by its moldy odor, you will discover a strong, salty flavor.
7. Gilboa cheese
Gilboa is a type of hard yellow cheese, similar to Emek cheese. It is used in pretty much in the same way as Emek and has the about the same price as the latter.
Labaneh is a soft white cream cheese that’s popular in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. It is a strained yoghurt which has a thicker and firmer consistency in comparison to regular unstrained yoghurt. It is also called yoghurt cheese. Labaneh can be made from goat, sheep, or cow’s milk. Labaneh is often served with olive oil, pita bread, and za’atar (a culinary herb or a mixture of herbs). It has 9% to 30% fat content.
9. Cream cheese (soft-white)
Cream cheese is made by every big dairy in Israel. It has at least 3% fat content. It is sold in tubs in different sizes, mostly 500g and 750g. If you want to make cheesecakes for Shavuot, you should buy bigger tubs. Cream cheese is also a good substitute for recipes that require white yoghurt and sour cream.
10. Tal HaEmek cheese
Tal HaEmek is an Israeli version of the Swiss Emmental cheese. It has about 30% fat content and a sharp flavor. It is also expensive.
11. Tzfatit cheese
Originating from Tzfat (Safed), Tzfatit is a salty, semi-hard cheese that has a rubbery consistency. It is made from sheep, goat, or cow’s milk. It was first produced in 1840 and is still made by the descendants of the original cheese makers. It is perfect for pashtidot, lasagna or any recipe that calls for white cheese.