I discovered the best place in Israel to buy cheese. Shockingly enough, it’s in the wine shop I’ve worked at a half-dozen times — I simply never explored the other rooms containing the super-expensive butcher and deli, as by the end of a 5-hour shift talking, pouring, flirting, selling wine on your feet, you just want to get the hell out of there. Yesterday after I finished polishing my wine glasses I was still feeling rather spry and curious (very good day for sales), and to tell the truth, I fancied buying some handmade un-kosher sausages for dinner (the shop is owned by Christian Arabs, so I thought I might snag some real pork bangers). No luck. I didn’t like what I saw at the butcher’s counter, so I made my way past the cheeses. And stopped for a half hour.
“Wine and More” – the Hinnawi family’s branch on Carlebach (Carlebach 25, Tel Aviv), is pretty awesome. Cheeses so overpriced, I wanted to cry, but awesome. The wines are reasonable, but I suppose when you’re the only one in Israel selling Epoisse and Brunost and Extra-Oud Goudsa Kaas, you can pick your price. And boy did they.
I came out with three cheeses I haven’t eaten in years and years — but paid close to 100 shekels (30 USD) after a 20% discount (b/c the cheesemonger was a nice guy who used to be a ballet dancer in NYC for 18 years before he came back to Israel to run a restaurant for twelve years that went out of business two years ago) for an amount of cheese that would have cost me maybe $15 at a Whole Foods or less than $10 at a regular grocery store (not that they would have these cheeses). Seriously folks. Three slices of cheese. With a discount. But I had to have ’em. They were the best.
A little bit about why I adore cheese — apart from the fact that cheese is delicious, and that I have yet to meet one I didn’t like (including Norwegian “rotten cheese” that smells like the worst 10-day-old socks and causes most people to vomit) — for pennies, for the change beneath your sofa cushions, you can have the best. The very best. Because even though I paid through the roof for a few hundred grams of three cheeses — I could never have bought the finest bottle of Champagne for that amount. I couldn’t have snagged any fois gras. No truffles. No Michelin-starred filet mignon. Because folks, this is what this cheese is — the very best in the world. My $30 bought me 2-3 days worth (if I’m lucky) of a ride in a Porsche. I truly believe that. Each and every one of these cheeses is handmade, by real people, with recipes that are hundreds of years old, are aged in locations specific to the type of cheese, and many many have been awarded AOC (regional and production approval – like for wines), or similar, and are true products of their terroir.
Many of us may never get to drink a bottle of Cristal while wolfing down Iranian Caviar on a yacht off the French Riviera. But with $5-10 in your pocket, your local cheese shop will send you home with the world’s best cheese. Maybe not a lot of it. But it’s the genuine article, and an incredible pleasure to behold. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the Mona Lisa in their home for an evening? AND get to eat it?
I urge all of you to go to your local cheese shop, or even a Whole Foods, and taste (if they don’t let you taste, it’s not a good cheese shop — you should be able to sample almost everything before buying — with the exception of the soft cheeses that would fall apart and need their rinds unbroken to keep aging) — and buy cheese. If you don’t know where to buy good cheese, go online, open the yellow pages, ask a friend. There is no excuse for waxy grocery store Swiss and mild neon orange cheddar.
I can’t tell you what an awesome thing it was to arrive at home with those cheeses after that long long day on my feet. I put together a plate with small slices of Norwegian brown cheese, Bleu des Basques, and a super-white hard aged goat’s cheese, a few buttery crackers, a handful of organic dates (I live in Israel, after all), and a couple tiny clementines. If that isn’t a feast fit for a king, I don’t know what is. Add a glass of cheap Scotch, the last couple episodes of Firefly, and I achieved an hour’s worth of bliss. Believe me, that kind of peace is worth its weight in gold. Not that that sentence makes any sense.
Sent to me by a facebook friend – if you haven’t seen this video, you must: