What exactly is Pizzarella?

The short answer: not cheese!

2015-02-08 17.03.14When I first moved to Israel I made the mistake of buying Pizzarella to make pizza, thinking it was mozzarella.  In my newbie state I didn’t read the fine print, which is actually right on the front of the package: חלבון חלב ושומן צמחי aka “milk protein and vegetable oil” that has been formed into little shreds to look just like grated cheese.

The resulting pizza wasn’t that great, and now I know why.  I also know why people buy it: it is way cheaper than mozzarella, about 24 shekel per kilo, compared to mozzarella, which costs around 60-80 shekel per kilo depending on the brand. (For reference, at today’s exchange rates, that’s $2.80/lb versus ~$8.20/lb).  So, understandably, many people prefer to use Pizzarella for pizza cheese, including some pizza chains.

I really taste and feel the difference between Pizzarella and real mozzarella however, so now I buy mozzarella from the cheese counter at my grocery store, especially when it is on sale, ask them to grate it for me, and store it in my freezer for pizza night.  Or, if you want to mix it up, you can try Suluguni for your pizza cheese.

If you also like making homemade pizza, I recommend this quick pizza dough recipe from my fav, Martha.

Suluguni (סולוגוני)

Suluguni, also known as Solog, is a Georgian cheese very similar to mozzarella.  It can be produced from any type of milk, and is a fresh cheese, aged between 6-48 hours in brine (salt water solution).  Like mozzarella, the cheese is formed by hand, stretched and folded, to create the characteristic stringy texture.  It is often braided.

Suluguni braidMy supermarket had two types of Suluguni available, both from Parili dairy in Azaria, Israel, which is not far from Rehovot, where I live.  Parili dairy is a third generation dairy specializing in Iraqi and Georgian cheeses from cow’s milk.  According to this website you can visit the dairy, but call first to confirm.

Back to the cheese: one was braided, and contained 18% fat, while the other was in a circular form (like a round challah) and contained 20% fat.  Both were 60 shekel/kilo.  The braided suluguni had a slightly more tender texture, but it was a very subtle difference, the two cheeses were almost identical.

Suluguni does taste, look, and feel just like mozzarella. I would have to try it side by side with some mozzarella to see if there is any noticeable difference.  Therefore this would probably be a good replacement for mozzarella in recipes. To test out this theory I grated some Suluguni and used it as pizza cheese. It was perfect!

Suluguni pizza

Tzfatit

2013-12-24 09.13.17_tzafatitTzafatit cheese is a delicious, salty, semi hard, decidedly Israeli cheese.  It gets its name from its city of origin, Tzfat, in the north of Israel.  The cheese was first produced in Meiri Dairy in 1840.  The original recipe used goat’s milk, but cow’s milk Tzafatit cheese is now very common.  There must be hundreds of Tzafatit cheeses in Israel, and somehow they all have a unique taste and texture.

Tzafatit cheese is somewhat like a feta, but with a higher water content.  It is always sold in water, usually in the shape of a disc.  I’ve noticed that among different brands, the fat content is usually the same, around 5%.  It is moist, slightly chewy, slightly crumbly, with not very good meltability.  Tzafatit cheese is a staple in Israeli breakfasts, where its salty fresh flavor pairs well with raw salads and smoked fish.  It is also commonly used in sandwiches where it can be paired with tomatoes, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs and zaatar.

I love the flavor and texture of the cheese so much that usually I just eat it plain and it never has time to make it into a recipe! But, if I did happen to have extra Tzafatit cheese lying around, I would try this lentil salad.

Two Color Lentil Salad with Tzfatit Cheese

saladadashim_c

This recipe is adapted from Mako.co.il, an Israeli news outlet:

Ingredients:

1 cup black lentils

1 cup whole (not split) red lentils

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup blanched almonds, halved and toasted

200 g 5% Tzafatit cheese, crumbled

4 stalks green onions, chopped, including the white part

Chopped mint leaves

Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

If all of your lentils are whole, they should have the same cooking time and you can cook them together.  If the red lentils are split or halved, they will have about half the cooking time, so you should cook them in two separate pots.  Important: Do not add salt to the water while cooking the lentils, it will inhibit softening!

Cook the lentils by filling a pot with water and bringing it to a boil.  Then add the lentils and cook for 20 minutes (for whole) or 12 minutes (for halved).  Drain, cool, and transfer to a bowl.

Prepare the dressing. You can put all the ingredients in a jar, close the lid and shake vigorously until sugar dissolves and the dressing is uniform.  Pour the dressing on the lentils and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or it can sit overnight in the fridge.

Finish the salad: Mix the lentils with the rest of the ingredients, adjust seasoning as desired.

Things that come in yogurt containers but aren’t yogurt

Israeli yogurt aisle

So, you’re looking for yogurt in Israel?  Confused much?  In the U.S., there is one thing that comes in what we would call a “yogurt container” and that is yogurt.

In Israel, there are dozens of non-yogurt cheese products that come in little plastic containers.  You have yogurt, gevinah lavanah (white cheese), cottage cheese, shemenet (sour cream), gil, eishel, etc.  Each one of these may come in various fat contents, flavors, and with a myriad of toppings.

What is the difference between them? Which are the tastiest?  I set out to answer these questions with some research and a taste test.  In this first post I will cover only Tnuva products, since they can be found in any grocery store or makolet.  Of these products, I tried two types of yogurt, “Gil”, “Eishel”, “Classic Sheli (My classic)”, and three types of shemenet (sour cream).  Below are the pictures of these products with the nutritional breakdown.

not yogurt

Going from left to right, we have Yogurt 4.5% (the percentages on Israeli dairy products always indicate the fat content by weight) and then Yogurt “Danuba” 4%.  The Danuba yogurt is labeled “Bio”, which means it still contains the live active cultures used to ferment the milk, producing yogurt.  Yogurt without the “Bio” label has been heat treated after fermentation, killing the cultures.

Next, we have Eishel, Gil, and Classic Sheli, which are exclusively Tnuva products.  They are types of gevinah lavanah (white cheese) which supposedly are produced the same way and are interchangeable in recipes, depending on your taste.

Next, we have three types of shemenet, similar to sour cream, at 9, 15, and 27% fat content.  To give you some reference, Daisy brand sour cream sold in the U.S. has 17% fat, and its light version has 8% fat.

OK, now for the taste test!

First up, the plain ol’ yogurt (4.5%):  It tastes…just like yogurt. Creamy, but light, a little tangy.

Danubah yogurt (4%, “bio”): Compared to the 4.5% yogurt this one has a smoother, creamier texture, with less tang.  I find it more pleasant.

Eishel (4.5%): It is noticeably lumpy, and the flavor is distinctly like buttermilk, without the characteristic tang of yogurt. It’s basically like eating a more cultured or solidified version of buttermilk, so if you like buttermilk, you will like this.

Gil (3%): The texture is similar to Eishel – a bit lumpy. The flavor is actually very interesting. Compared to the Eishel, it has the same buttermilk taste, but is less tangy and sweeter.

Classic Sheli (4.3%): This one has the appearance of the Bio yogurt. It looks very creamy and smooth with no lumpiness.  This seems almost identical to Gil except for the texture.  Like, creamy yogurt texture meets subtle sweet buttermilk flavor of Gil.

Now for the shemenet…

9% (green container): This one begins quite solid with liquid sitting on top. After stirring it is quite thick…thicker than the yogurt/gil/eishel which all had about the same thickness.  In tasting right away I am struck by the richness of the shemenet. It is 9% fat after all!  The flavor reminds me most of sour cream, and also the most like Gil. Very tasty.

15% (blue container): This one, as expected, begins even more solid with less liquid sitting on top. After stirring it is even thicker than the 9%, approaching a whipped cream cheese. The taste is exactly like sour cream from home. It feels like as you go up in fat content, the taste becomes less pronounced and it’s more about the texture.

27% (gold container) aka shemenet shel paam: This starts out very thick and is not so easy to stir. The color is slightly more yellow than all the previous samples, more like butter. It looks a bit like a frosting.  The taste and texture is like a mix between sour cream and cream cheese. I imagine this would be good as a base for cream cheese frosting, or sandwich spread, or dip, but much too fatty to enjoy on its own with a spoon.

After tasting all of these varieties, there is something I would like to call a “Tang factor” which is most pronounced in the yogurt and least pronounced in the shemenets.  After tasting the shements, going back to the yogurt was like sucking on a lemon.

Tang factor: Yogurt (most tangy)> Yogurt Bio>Eishel > Gil>Classic Sheli>9%>15%>27%  (least tangy)

After my taste test, here are some personal guidelines that may be helpful for you:

If you want…

Just yogurt ->go with the Danubah Bio yogurt, because if you’re not eating yogurt with active cultures, what is the point?

Buttermilk on a spoon -> Eishel or Gil

Something pleasant and creamy but not too tangy -> Classic Sheli

A replacement for American sour cream-> Shemenet 15%

A replacement for American “light” sour cream-> Shemenet 9%

Creamy cheese for use in recipes like dips or frostings -> Shemenet 27%

That’s all for now, I hope it’s helpful! Now I have to figure out what to do with eight 25% eaten yogurt containers!

Roquefort Cheese from Tnuva

I tried a delicious, fancy “Roquefort” cheese recently from Tnuva dairy.  I say “Roquefort” because I think that technically, to be called Roquefort, the cheese has to be produced in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the south of France.  Anyway, I guess when you write it in Hebrew (רוקפור) it doesn’t count ; )

RoquefortRoquefort cheese is a soft white cheese with blueish green mold veins running through it (it’s not gross, the mold gives it so much flavor!).  The cheese crumbles easily and melts, and is very smooth feeling in the mouth.  It is made from sheep’s milk.  Roquefort belongs to the family of blue cheeses, including Stilton and Gorgonzola, that all use some type of fungus (in the case of Roquefort, Penicillium roqueforti) to produce the tasty mold.

Tnuva is the biggest dairy in Israel and sells a huge range of dairy products. Roquefort is considered one of their “special” cheeses, along with Camembert and Parmesan.  This Roquefort in particular is called Galil Roquefort, so I assume it is produced in the Galil, in the north of Israel.

Roquefort cheese can be eaten plain of course, or used to make a blue cheese dressing.  Most recently I tossed about 100 grams of Roquefort cheese with some whole wheat pasta, sautéed spinach, roasted broccoli, and toasted walnuts (inspired by this recipe from BBC).  It was fantastic and packed with interesting flavors and textures.

Fun Cheese Infographic from the Smithsonian

Apparently January 20 was national cheese lovers’ day! Who knew? To mark the occasion, Smithsonian.com published this great world map infographic with information on various types of cheeses produced in the world, as well as the amounts of cheese production and consumption, total and per capita. Truly a dream come true for lovers of data, infographics, and cheese (like me).

Here are some tidbits:

  • The average person in Israel ate 37.7 lb of cheese in 2012 (compared to the average American who ate 33.5)
  • Israel produced 35.4 lb of cheese per person in 2012
  • The unique cheeses attributed to Israel were Tzfat (from the city of Tzfat in the north), Akkawi (from Akko), Nabulsi (from Nablus), and Labbeneh.  In the future I hope to have a post devoted to each one of these!

Gouda

Gouda (pronounced Gow-dah in Hebrew) is a creamy, yellow, somewhat strongly flavored cheese.  It reminds me of cheddar, but not as sharp and a little saltier.  Gouda is traditionally a Dutch cheese and is named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands, where it was historically traded.

2013-12-24 09.13.33_goudaI bought my Gouda from my usual place, the cheese counter at my local Yochananuf.  The label said “Say Cheese” and seemed to be branded “וילי פוד” or Willie Foods.  I actually had to do quite a bit of sleuthing to discover the origin of this cheese!  It turns out that Willie Foods is an importer and this cheese in particular comes all the way from Lithuania.  So, I know I’m towing the line here when it comes to “Israeli cheeses” but at least I learned that it’s not always obvious where a cheese is made. If you want to support Israeli dairies, it’s worth it to ask and make sure!  In the future I will try to find an Israeli gouda and report back here on how it compares to this brand.

I used this Gouda in a delicious Macaroni and Cheese Recipe from one of my favorite blogs, The Shiksa in the Kitchen, by Tori Avey.  I omitted the raisins and pine nuts because I didn’t have them on hand and in any case wasn’t sure how I felt about raisins in macaroni and cheese. But next time I will try it and see!

Buffalo Mozzarella

Buffalo Mozzarella from Moshav Bitzaron

buffalo

My most unique Israeli cheese experience yet has been at the Buffalo farm in Moshav Bitzaron. This magical place makes, to my knowledge, the only kosher buffalo mozzarella in the world, along with other great buffalo milk products such as yogurt, tzafatit cheese, and ice cream! But, you don’t have to go all the way to the farm to buy this cheese. I’ve been able to find it in lots of healthy-type stores, like Supersol green markets.

So, what is buffalo mozzarella and why am I so excited about it? Because in my opinion, it is the queen of mozzarellas. Let me explain.

Buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala, originated in Italy, and is made from the milk of water buffalo.  Buffalo milk has more protein and much more fat than cow’s milk, so it makes a fantastic, creamy, cheese with a tender texture.  It also has more calcium and less cholesterol than cow’s milk.  Fresh buffalo mozzarella is often found in the shape of balls, large or small, and is kept in water.  It is highly perishable, best enjoyed on the day it’s made, and won’t last for more than a week in your fridge.

Now let me say a word about the difference between fresh and “regular” mozzarella cheese.  Fresh mozzarella cheese is, well, fresher, has a higher moisture content, and is kept in water.  Regular mozzarella is allowed to dry, which also allows it to develop some more flavor (there is also smoked mozzarella, with an interesting smoky flavor).  Because of the drying process, regular mozzarella cheese has a much longer shelf life.  Regular mozzarella comes in many forms: wrapped in a ball, shredded (aka pizza cheese), in sticks (aka string cheese) etc.

To me, fresh mozzarella is wonderful.  The delicate yet chewy texture of the cheese, combined with its subtle flavor, just wins me over.  Unfortunately it is very hard to find fresh kosher mozzarella cheese outside of Israel (or perhaps Italy).  I’m sure this is changing, but until it does, this can be something for kosher-keepers to look forward to in their next trip to Israel!

Uses:

I recommend using fresh mozzarella in simple, raw recipes where the subtle flavor and texture of the mozzarella can shine. Caprese salad is a perfect dish for showcasing great mozzarella.   See this delicious looking recipe from The Pioneer Woman.

Because of the high moisture content of fresh mozzarella, be wary of using it in cooked dishes, such as pizza or lasagna, as it will add water to the dish as it cooks, making it soggy.

Make your own mozzarella? Apparently, this isn’t too hard! Stay tuned for a future post when I’m feeling very ambitious…