The concept of farm-to-table is definitely a way of life that has been ingrained in me since childhood. From my mom’s stories about mango trees in her childhood in Jamaica, to dining room tables filled with with squash, tomatoes, and callaloo from our garden in Brooklyn, my love of farmers markets locally, to agriturismos in Italy, I’m super into knowing what I’m putting into my mouth. It’s no wonder that time spent on a farm in the Judean mountains was the highlight of my trip to Israel. After a very long day in Jerusalem we drove up a particularly windy mountain road in the Judean Mountains and watched the sun cast a particularly beautiful shade of gold over Mount Etan while having wine and cheese.
Founded as a goat farm in the 1970s, the Seltzer farm has been making delectable cheese since the 1980s. Shai, with his flowing white beard, and jovial disposition reminiscent of Kris Kringle, is considered one of the top 3 cheese artisans in Israel. During my visit, Shai’s son took me through the cheeses they had available for the season and I ended up going home with cheese for myself and friends back in Israel (that didn’t last long!)
Shai’s son helps his father run the goat farm and is daughter is in the apiary field, working on her pH D in bee-keeping. Shai Seltzer set up shop with his herd of goats in 1974. In the 1980s, a French monk from a Greek Orthodox monastery in the area began working on the land and shared cheese making techniques that he grew up learning in France. With this came the revival of the boutique cheese industry in Israel, with Shai Seltzer as one of the forerunners. You won’t find their cheese in delis around Israel though, you can only get it on the farm. As of now, the Seltzers have no interest in commercializing their process as it would ruin the artisanal product.
With their pride in the goats physical conditions and healthy grazing conditions, Seltzer Goat Farm is a perfect example of the slow food movement. Be sure to try the tomar cheese; it supposedly helps with diabetes, quickly sells out and is available only about three months out of the year as it is produced when the goats graze on a certain herb. Sometimes the cheeses have a faint taste of olive, as the goats eat the fallen olives during season.
From the aforementioned tomar cheese to another semi-hard variety covered in grape leaves that hold moisture, I have never been exposed to such a mouth-watering variety of goat cheese. I’m still searching all of the markets of NYC for something that comes close! Seltzer accepts volunteers and interns and offer special classes on the process of goat cheese making — maybe see ya in a few months?
You’d be hard pressed to find a better way to watch the sunset, great news is Shai Seltzer’s goat farm is open to the public on the weekends (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) making it a perfect way to spend a day with the family. Definitely off the beaten path, Seltzer’s goat farm is worth the detour — about 45 minutes from Tel Aviv and 20 from Jerusalem.
Shai Seltzer Cheese and Goats