Wednesday, 19 December 2018
(Reading time: 4 - 8 minutes)

Popular varieties and types of locally manufactured cheeses in Israel.

A handy cheese guide with Hebrew names and transliterations.

popular varieties and types of Israel cheeseIsrael is well known for its soft white cheese and its dairy products. From inexpensive to pricey, you'll find a wide selection of local and imported cheeses on supermarket shelves.  Fromageries - specialized cheese shops - are popping up all over Israel; in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, from Sarona to Mahane Yehuda and beyond.

Cow-, goat- and sheep-milk are all used to make soft cheeses.  Both sheep- and goat-milk cheese have a strong distinctive flavor.  Cow milk cheeses are produced throughout the year, but goat- and sheep-milk cheeses are seasonal.

Soft cheeses have a high moisture content.  Some white cheeses are pressed to expel the whey and others are left to ripen naturally. Molds and bacteria that spread during the ripening process contribute to the flavor and uniqueness of the cheese.

Over the years large Israeli dairies like Tnuva, Strauss, and Tara  have developed some fabulous (and some less-fabulous) varieties and types of cheeses.  Smaller family owned and boutique dairies like Gad, Zuriel, Barkanit are also competing for a slice of the cheese market.

It is a Jewish tradition to eat dairy products on Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks) so we are sharing some cheesy info about local varieties and types of cheese that every Israeli shopper should know and can use in their recipes.

Brinza Cheese / Gvinat Brinza - גבינת ברינזה

Brinza not Breezer! An Arab semi-hard white cheese derived from cow's milk. Can be used in cooking.  Around 15% fat content

Bulgarian Cheese / Gvinat Bulgarit -  גבינת בולגרית

A white cheese, similar to Feta but saltier.  Popular in Israel, this cheese originates in the Balkan countries.  From 5% - 28% fat content.  Great in salads or where any Feta type cheese is called for.  Nice on pizza too.

Canaan Cheese / Gvinat Kna'an -  גבינצ כנען

Canaan cheese is a white cheese with a 5% fat content.  No salt has been added.  Great for baking and even in cheese-cakes.  Expect to pay around 45 - 50 shekels/kilo

Cottage Cheese / Gvinat Kotteg' - גבינת קוטג

Emek Cheese / Gvinat Emek - גבינת עמק

Emek is a hard, light-yellow cheese popular in Israel. The recipe hasn't changed since 1942. It takes 1.5 cups of milk to produce a 28gr slice of cheese.  Made from cows' milk it usually has a 28% fat content.  Sliced in a sandwich, melted in a toasted cheese {Heb: Tost} it can also be used on pizza, in pashtidot, (crustless quiche), souffles and cheese sauces.  It has a mild flavor but does not quite measure up to Edam, Sweetmilk or Cheddar cheeses. Expect to pay between 40 -45 shekels/kilo

Galil - A Blue Cheese Variety / Gvinat Galil Rokfor - גבינת גליל רוקפור

Tnuva's brand name for their Roquefort style blue cheese is Galil.  Each dairy has its own name like Roq-Kfar, Bar-Kfar or Kachol Lavan.  Blue cheese goes well with thick crusted country-style bread, grapes, apples and walnuts. Sweet dessert wines are often drunk as accompaniments to blue cheeses; some enjoy a Cabernet Sauvignon with their blue cheese.  Add it to creamy salad dressings.  If you are not put off by the distinct smell, you will discover a strong, salty flavor.  Made from sheep's or goats' milk.

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Gilboa Cheese / Gvinat Gilboa - גבינת גילבוע

Similar to Emek, Gilboa has a 22% fat content, Gilboa is a hard yellow cheese. Just like Emek it can be used in recipes that call for Edam, Sweetmilk or Cheddar.  It is similarly priced to Emek.

Labaneh - לבנה

A soft white cream cheese popular in the  Middle-East. Labaneh starts off as a yogurt which has been strained to give it a firmer consistency. It is derived from goat, sheep or cow's milk.  Often served in balls with olive oil, zaatar and pita. Between 9 - 30% fat content.

Soft-white, Creamed Cheese  / Gvina Levana -  גבינה לבנה

From 3% fat content and upwards, white, creamed cheese is made by all the large dairies.  250 gr tubs are the usual size, but it can also be bought in 500 and 750 gram tubs.  These larger sizes are great for your Shavuot cheese cake. You can substitute white creamed cheese for recipes that call for sour cream and plain yogurt.

Symphonia and Napoleon have higher fat contents, often flavored with garlic, onions, dill etc.  they are similar to the American Philadelphia cheese.

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Tal HaEmek Cheese / Gvinat Tal HaEmek - גבינת טל העמק

With large holes, the Tal HaEmek cheese is easily recognizable - it's Israel's version of the Swiss Ementhaaler cheese. It has a sharp flavor. Tal HaEmek has around a 30% fat content. Expect to pay in the region of 60 shekels/kilo

Tsfatit Cheese / Gvina Tsfatit - גבינת צפתית

Tzfatit cheese is a semi-hard, salty white cheese with a rubbery consistency. It was first produced in 1840 originally from sheep's milk by the HaMeiri dairy in the holy city of Tzfat (hence the name) in Northern Israel and is still produced there by descendants of the original cheese makers.  It is made from cows', goats' or sheep's milk.  Price point - around 80 shekels/kilo. Use it lasagna, pashtidot, boerekas or any recipe that calls for white cheese. Delicious on a sandwich with tapenade and sun dried tomatoes.

There are many ways to enjoy your cheese and aside from the fat content cheese contains the goodness of a number of essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12.

Recipe for Tsfatit Cheese

There is nothing more exciting than making your own cheese; watching the milk curdle and large lumps begin to form.  My first attempt at cheese making was my grandmother's method - hang a mixture of soured milk and salt in a muslin bag and allow the whey to drip out. When you have a sold mass, this sour cheese is ready.  My next attempt was paneer and Indian cheese where milk is brought to the boil and either lemon juice or vinegar is added. The whey immediately separates, curds form and the cheese is ready for eating as soon as it has cooled down.

The addition of pepsin changes the same basic ingredients to a firmer cheese with a delicate flavor that Israeli's love and call Tsfatit cheese.

Ingredients for Tsfatit Cheese

2 liters of goats milk (Heb: Halav eizim)
2 tsp of leben
1 tsp of salt
0.1ml of pepsin enzyme (available at specialty stores)

Instructions to make Tsfatit Cheese

-Warm the milk to about 80 ° C. Turn off the flame and let the milk rest for 18- 22 minutes.

-Place the pot in a large bowl of cold water, and stir the milk while it cools down.

-When the milk reaches a temperature of about 40 ° C, add the leben and mix well. Wait about 15-17 minutes.

-Add the pepsin and mix. Wait about one hour and the milk will begin to form curds.

-Add the salt to the curds and mix gently until the curds become small cubes.

-Places the cubes in a strainer/basket and allow the water to drizzle out. After about 30 minutes of draining, you should have a large cube of cheese.

-Refrigerate for 24 hours, after which the cheese will be ready.



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