Shavuot, the holiday of cheesecake…err, I mean, the holiday in which the Israelites receive the Torah, is here! No, but really, it’s all about the cheesecake.
Which makes this a great time to talk about Israeli and American cheesecakes. No, they are not the same. American cheesecake, typically a “New York Style” cheesecake, is based on American cream cheese, which is quite thick, similar to a 30% fat shemenet. New York Style cheesecake also calls for some flour, and is baked in a water bath to achieve the thick, custard-like texture. A New York Style cheesecake is dense and creamy, and a thin sliver is all you need ; )
Israeli cheesecake, on the other hand, tends to be lighter, more airy. This is primarily due to the difference cheeses used. Instead of American style cream cheese, the classic being Philadelphia cream cheese (which is not easy to find in Israel), a combination of lower fat white cheese (gevinah lavanah and shemenet) and sometimes sweetened heavy cream (shemenet metukah) are used.
My last post on Gouda described an imported gouda from Lithuania, imported by Willi Foods. This week I wanted to make some quiche, and my recipe called for cheddar, which is not as common in Israel. So, I decided to use gouda instead, and specifically asked for an Israeli made gouda. My cheese counter had two types, one from Gad and one from Jacob’s Farm. Randomly I chose the gouda from Jacob’s Farm, a dairy near Hadera specializing in high quality cheeses from cow, goat, and sheep.
I am happy to announce that the gouda from Jacob’s Farm was definitely tastier and more pungent than the cheaper, imported version. The cheese was made from cow’s milk, with 28% fat, and had a nice yellow rind. (side note: I haven’t been able to convince the ladies at my cheese counter to remove rinds from cheeses in order to grate them for me. So, the only downside of buying higher quality cheeses with rinds is that if you want it grated, you have to do it yourself at home, or find a better cheese lady.) This dairy also sells gouda cheeses flavored with cumin or herbs, and a special 6 month aged gouda. By the way, the quiche came out great. If you’re interested in trying it, here is my recipe. Enjoy!
What I love about this quiche is its adaptability: you can use the same basic recipe with whatever combination of cooked vegetables you have on hand. It is fairly easy to make and has the perfect consistency. This recipe calls for gouda cheese, but you can also use cheddar, swiss, or whatever you like.
Tvorog is a Russian cheese with a consistency somewhere in between American style cream cheese and farmer’s cheese. It may also be called Russian cottage cheese, farmer’s cheese, or quark. I bought some by weight from my favorite cheese counter during Passover because it looked like the perfect spread for matzah, and it was! The tvorog I tried was from Parili dairy with 5% fat from cow’s milk. There was another tvorog from Moshava dairy with 9% fat, and both dairies sold a variety with golden raisins mixed in. The flavor of tvorog is very mild and fresh, and for this reason it lends itself well to sweet or savory recipes, such as pancakes, pastries or pierogies. I suspect that it could also be a good substitute for cream cheese in recipes.
Apparently it is also easy to make at home, see here and here.
Halloumi is a white, chewy, salty cheese originally from Cyprus. It can be made from goat, sheep, or cow’s milk, but these days it is usually made from cow’s milk. I think my favorite thing about halloumi is that it makes a funny sweeky noise when you chew it! What’s also neat is that you can grill it. It has a very high melting point so you can cut it into cubes or slices and grill it over a hot pan or grill. It will give a nice crunchy exterior and creamy interior. It’s kind of like eating a hot mozzarella stick without the breading : )
For more info, see the English or Hebrew wikipedia pages on Halloumi.
I recommend this salad to serve as a base for your grilled halloumi, along with a glass of refreshing white wine.
I just found this article from a few years ago in Haaretz. Its a good, brief overview of the most common Israeli cheeses.
In the Israeli winter there is nothing like hot Sachlav (pronounced Sock-lahv) to warm you up. Sachlav is a thick milk based drink seasoned with sugar and rosewater and topped with coconut, pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, or whatever else you enjoy. Sachlav actually translates to orchid, because in the old days sachlav was flavored and thickened with the starch from the orchid bulb. Since orchid bulbs are so expensive, these days, corn flour is used to thicken the drink.
Mallabi is basically a cold, thicker, pudding version of sachlav and is so pleasant when the weather gets warm. It is made with milk, heavy cream, corn starch, sugar, and rosewater. It is usually topped with a sweet raspberry or rosewater syrup, followed by the traditional sachlav toppings like coconut, nuts, and cinnamon.
You can buy mixes or premade sachlav and mallabi in Israeli grocery stores, but it’s very easy to make at home from scratch. This is especially useful if you want to replicate the sachlav/mallabi experience outside of the Middle East. I recommend these recipes for sachlav and mallabi.
For more on the history of sachlav, see here.
The short answer: not cheese!
When 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.