Israel’s Boutique Dairy Tour- The Jerusalem Hills

by Sarah on October 20, 2010

goat in israel

There has been a surge in interest in artisanal and specialty cheese in Israel, with many boutique dairies sprouting around the country. The larger ones are now selling through supermarkets and delicatessens around the country. But there are other dairy gems that should be visited, not only for the cheese, but also for the beauty of their surroundings. This is the first post of a series on boutique dairies of Israel.

Shai Seltzer

Shai Seltzer the one of the foremost experts on goat cheese in Israel. Not only is he a connoisseur of specialty cheeses, he has taken full control of the craft on all levels including breeding the ideal goat for Israel’s climatic conditions and perfecting the art of maturing and aging the cheese, known as affinage. He has won international acclaim for his handmade artisanal cheeses, which are left to ripen in natural lime stone caves to produce a unique flavor profile. His cheeses are one of the finest in the area and continue to attract cheese lovers from all over the country.

shai seltzer's cheese, israel Shai Seltzer’s cheese,named after his daughters, Michal and Tamar

Shai is methodical when it comes to producing cheese, from the pasture feed of the goats, which affects the flavor of the cheese, to the bacteria used for aging it. When he makes changes in the cheese making process he understands how this affects the final flavor of the product.

The farm is situated in the beautiful hills of Jerusalem at the base of Eitan Mountain, near the Sataf nature preserve. Combine a visit with a walk around the area.

sataf israel The Sataf

Shai produces a variety of young cheeses as well as those aged two to three years. The older the cheese the stronger and more pronounced the flavor . It is enough to grate a small portion over a pasta dish to transform it to something extraordinary.

Additional Information:

Call before visiting

Not certified kosher

Location:

Har Eitan Farm, Judea Mountains

Telefax: (+ 972) 2 5333 748

Mobile: 054 403 762

P.O box 3031 Jerusalem

shayezim@hotmail.com

Yaaren Family

The Yaaren’s family farm sits amidst the scrub brush typical of the Mediterranean with aromatic herbs scenting the heavy air. We visited their farm about seven years ago by accident while on a family walk, first encountering their goats and then their little homestead in the woods.  A stone path shaded by olive and pomegranate trees leads up to a small wooden hut where the family sells their organic cheese, yogurt and whole grain bread.

yaaren family cheeese, israel cheese and bread from Yaaren’s family farm

Aside from the goat enclosures, their farm is completely open to visitors, unlike similar establishments which are gated and require entrance fees. Here picnic tables are provided and children are allowed to wander around to see the animals. Sometimes Bar Yaaren, the owner and a biologist, comes to explain about her organic farm but does not expect any compensation.  Recently a group of high risk Ethiopian youth visited the farm with their parents to learn about life in Ethiopia through their parent’s perspective. Ethiopia is a country the young generation has only heard of and the visit helped to create a new pride in their heritage and a link between the two generations.

bar yaaren Bar Yaaren

The Yaarens put a tremendous amount of love and hard work while trying to reduce environmental damage to a minimum by using sustainable agricultural practices.  Besides creating delicious cheese, they also produce electricity from turbines, collect drinking water from a nearby well, grow their own vegetables, raised five children and have even begun the art of beekeeping.

Bar Yaaren works differently than Shai Seltzer, using her heart to guide her when making cheese so that each season her cheeses have a different character. She does not produce the intense aged variety of Seltzer’s cheeses, but her heart must be telling her to do the right things as her cheeses are exceptional.

There are several trails in the area, which can be accessed from her farm. During the warmer months a visit to the Stalactite cave is a cool alternative for a fun outdoor activity.

Additional Information

Call before visiting

Not certified kosher

Directions to the Yaaren Farm:

Drive to the direction of the Stalactite National Park, east of Bet Shemesh (road 3866). Turn off at the Challenger Junction (there is a sign to the caves). There will be another sign to the farm.

Telephone 02-9997811, usually open all week.

For those that are interested, there is a petition that can be signed to help the family stay on the land.

Tzuk Farm

The Tzuk farm was established in  the beautiful Ella valley by two brothers who have a passion for producing quality cheese and outdoor living. The path leading to the farm is hedged with natural and cultivated herbs and flowers such as lavender, za’atar, thyme and verbena whose aroma fills the air. A visit can be combined with a walk to the nearby Bedouin grave, which overlooks the farm and surroundings. During the February, when the flowers are in bloom, a visit to the nearby lupine hill is highly recommended

bedouin grave

goats Tzuk’s herd of goats near Lupine hill, Ella Valley

I have spoken to the young herders who explained how each goat is identified. The owners use color to avoid losing them to the Bedouins who periodically graze their sheep in the same area. The goats, notorious eaters, devour everything but the strong aromatics such as za’atar, sage and thyme

goat israel

The labneh here is very good, with a rich creamy tangy flavor as is the vine covered soft cheese. Some of the cheeses were truly excellent and others flavorful but not at the quality of Shai Seltzers or Yaaren’s.

This farm also sells their produce in Tel Aviv:

5 Perlok Road, Zaritski corner

New Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv

Open:7:30-19:30, closed between 14:00-16:00

077-5155905 (I have not visited this store)

Additional Information:

Call before visiting

Not certified kosher

Location:

Take eastern turn off south of Ella Valley Junction (Rtes. 38 and 375), 2 km (1 mile) down dirt road, Bet Shemesh

Phone: 054-523-9117

Har Haruach Dairy

Near Jerusalem, in the Judea Mountains, is the Har Haruach family goat farm. It produces high quality organic cheese products using pasteurized raw goat milk. Nearby is the park by the same name, with typical Mediterranean vegetation of grasses, olive trees, pomegranates and carob trees. The air is scented from the wild aromatic herbs, such as za’atar and thyme. Why not buy a picnic lunch from the dairy and take a nature walk in the surrounding area.

cheese Friend of the family selling the cheese on the premises

The cheeses I tasted from this farm were all very good including mild cheese sprinkled with nigella seeds, variations of soft cheese and a few harder aged varieties. I especially liked the soft charcoal cheese pictured below.

har haruach dairy farm

har haruach Har Haruach Park located near Abu Gosh

Additional Information:

Call before visiting

Not certified Kosher

Location:

Har Haruah Goat Farm

Nataf 35, Judea Mountains
Telephone: 02-534-5660
Cellphone: 054-4934566
Open:
Friday: 10 am- 4pm
Saturday:10 am- 5:00pm

Directions: Drive on the Abu Gosh/Nataf road and about 0.5  km before the Nataf settlement turn left at the Memorial for Polish Jews. The farm is located about 700 meters from the memorial.

More about Israeli goat cheese:

The cheese trail- touring Israel, one goat farm at a time

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally - My Custard Pie October 20, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I’m rather obsessed with cheese and this is a fascinating article. I saw herds of goats like this in the mountains in Lebanon but wasn’t lucky enough to find any cheese sellers.

Reply

Yael October 21, 2010 at 3:40 am

Great and informative post. We ate cheeses from all of these farms (they’re close home) and we think that Shai Zeltzer makes the best cheeses. but he costs accordingly so we buy there only once a year or so.
maybe this Saturday if the weather is saner we can go and hunt for cheese :)

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Yael the Finn October 21, 2010 at 6:25 am

What a lovely post! I would especially visit that Yaaren family farm.

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Jamie October 23, 2010 at 5:56 am

This looks better than any cheese tour in France! Gorgeous surroundings and country! Love them goats, too. The cheeses are wonderful and I am glad to see this kind of artisinal production blooming in Israel. Thanks for the tour, Sarah.

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Sarah October 23, 2010 at 11:10 am

Jamie, Come to Israel and I will take you one a private cheese tour, it will be fantastic!

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ben October 23, 2010 at 10:35 am

Yum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Penny October 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Hi! I found your site while searching for nettles and israel. I’m a forager and love natural products and I’ve read much about nettles. How do you know where to find nettles? Are there any identification markers? What about marrow (is that what that other plant was called?)? I’m looking for a course or website or something to teach me about edible wildplants in israel- so far I’ve only found capers growing completely wild, but would love more ideas. If you can send me a message via email or something, I would really love that! Can’t wait to read more of your blog!

Reply

Sarah October 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

Penny,
I have never seen nettles sold at markets but come winter, a few weeks after the first rains, you will see them almost everywhere, especially in shady areas.

Reply

OysterCulture October 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm

We have goat farms and cheese producers here in the Bay Area, but nothing like this. They look amazing. I’d love to check them out one day.

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Sarah October 31, 2010 at 7:43 am

it is funny to think that twenty years ago it was nearly impossible to find local homemade cheeses. The only thing available then was white, salty and yellow standard cheese.

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maral November 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

This blog post makes me hungry for Israel. I see that none of these dairies are certified kosher are there any that are?

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Sarah November 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm

there is one kosher goat cheese dairy south of rehovot which I will post about soon called Shvil Ha-ezim (goat trail)

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Fun Joel November 6, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Excellent post with great info, Sarah!

Regarding the lack of kosher certification, I assume for many it is either a money thing, or an open on Shabbat thing. But curious to know, do they use animal rennet or “vegetarian” rennet? Or are these made without the use of rennet at all? That is, I understand, on of the central issues involved.

Reply

Sarah November 7, 2010 at 1:40 am

thanks Joel,
all of these cheese places are open on shabbat or holidays. I believe they use bioengineered rennet which is kosher, not animal or vegetable but I need to verify this information.

Reply

meno August 12, 2011 at 8:29 am

are there any diary cow farms in kibbuts tzora

Reply

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