Despite Israel’s long cheesemaking history, markets carried surprisingly few options beyond fresh cow’s milk varieties like cottage cheese and feta—that is, until the late 1980s, when the farm-to-fork movement came to Israel. Suddenly, mom-and-pop goat dairies started sprouting up all over the country. The animals thrive in craggy, mountainous areas and are quite easy to raise compared to their larger cloven-hoofed brethren. Thus they suit many families, like the Chais, who immigrated to Israel from England in the 1970s to be part of a religious commune and now make cheese.
“I took classes, read books, and learned how to make cheese from other cheesemakers,” says Judy Chai, a kosher maker who crafts a variety of goat’s milk curds, including tangy, one-bite spheres rolled in spices (such as cumin and black sesame seeds), pungent aged logs with lovely gooey edges, creamy smooth cheddar, sticky-centered bloomy rinds, sharp pecorino, and Tsfatit, a wobbly Israeli cheese.
Coincidentally, my visit to Chai Goat Farm occurred over the Jewish holiday Shavuot, which is traditionally celebrated by eating lots of dairy. Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover in late May or early June and commemorates the day that God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Its milky tradition, according to rabbi and Inbal Jerusalem Hotel executive chef Nir Elkayam, either relates to the Promised Land, a country flowing with “milk and honey,” or stems from the Israelites’ uncertainty regarding meat-related dietary laws under the Torah—it was presumably simpler to eat dairy protein instead. Regardless, Elkayam praises the quality of artisan goat cheeses now available in Israel, and frequently uses them in dishes—find his recipe for Roasted Potatoes with Goat Cheese below.
- 1½ pounds new potatoes, such as Red Bliss
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
- Heat oven to 425°F. Rinse, scrub, and halve potatoes. Scatter on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake potatoes 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Position an oven rack on the highest rung, and heat broiler to high. Cluster the roasted potatoes together, and crumble goat cheese over the top of the cluster. Broil potatoes until cheese just begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.