It’s Israel’s birthday! What do you get an old country that is also young? Gilboa—a modern cheese with an ancient Spanish history. Manchego is a delicacy that the Spanish dreamed up, but that the Israelis recreated in Gilboa.
Named for Mount Gilboa, a ridge in northern Israel, this sheep’s milk cheese from Barkanit Dairy satisfies the craving for intensely flavored, aged cheese and a true taste of Eretz Yisrael. With a poke of the knife, Gilboa breaks into chunks—almost like a Parmesan—releasing a blend of sweet and sharp that only sheep’s milk can deliver. Its finish is long and full, with nutty nuances and bright tangy flavors that take the palate on a guided tour of scenic Israel.
Barkanit Dairy is located in northern Israel, but the selection of cheeses seem more European than Mediterranean. The Brakin brothers traveled to Europe, studied French and Spanish cheesemaking, and then returned to Israel where they set up a goat and sheep dairy. There they make French and Spanish-style cheeses, but with an Israeli twist and, of course, Israeli terroir.
Gilboa’s six months of aging qualifies it as a “six-hour cheese,” and some wheels may be aged even past one year. No matter what its age, it delivers a fascinating “hard cheese” texture and flavor that is often difficult to find in the current selection of kosher cheeses on the U.S. market.
Gilboa also makes a good kosher substitute—albeit pricy at $15 for six ounces—for the Italian Pecorino Toscano ingredient in many non-kosher recipes. It is most commonly available in six-ounce pre-packed wedges, but at some specialty kosher stores with a dairy kitchen, it may come sliced directly off an imported wheel and packaged on the premises under the store’s own hashgacha.
Also hard to find is kosher membrillo, a tart loaf-shaped paste made of the quince fruit that is a common accompaniment for Manchego and other sheep’s milk cheeses in Spain. For an all-Israeli pairing, try Quince 100% Fruit Spread by Beit Yitzhak with Gilboa cheese. The tart quince really plays off both the sheepy taste and the acidity in the cheese. For extra simcha, add on an Israeli Tempranillo or other fruity red wine.
The pre-pack wedge is a great size for a small gathering and can be served up in several ways.
Plate the full wedge with a short, sharp knife for self-service or cut it in advance; cube it, chunk it, or slice it length-wise in thin triangles so that everybody gets a balanced piece, including a look at the basket imprints on the rind—a vestige of the Spanish technique of tightening an esparto (woven straw) belt around the wheels to expel the whey during the ripening. Truly a centerpiece cheese.
OU-D, cholov yisroel. The label also reads “chalav israel under Gilboa Rabbinate Supervision.”
Make every day Israeli Independence Day with Israeli cheese!