Post Game Analysis: The Ultimate Cheesecake

In my last post I discussed my tour through six different cheesecake recipes and the merits of each.  After tasting them all, and taking input from some lucky friends, I have honed in on my ideal cheesecake recipe, combining the best qualities of all the recipes I tried. It is a hybrid between the dense, New York cheesecake, and the fluffy, Israeli cheesecake.  It contains lemon zest. It has a butterscotch topping and a cookie crumb (or graham cracker) crust. It was baked in a water bath for perfect texture and beauty.  Below are the recipes in both Israeli and American versions, I hope you enjoy!

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Cheesecakes: American vs Israeli

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.

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Gouda (Israeli)

גאודה גוש גדולMy 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!

Halloumi (חלומי)

Grilled Halloumi

Grilled Halloumi

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.

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.

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

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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.

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…