"It's a personal caprice of mine," admits Michal Mor-Melamed when asked about her dairy, Shirat Ro'im (literally "Shepherds' Song") in Kfar Kish. Her workday begins at 6:00 A.M. and sometimes lasts for 20 hours, but she is happy.
Mor-Melamed, who does everything herself in the dairy, exemplifies the trend of entrepreneurs who have decided to leave their previous vocations and embark on a new path. Their new work is mostly physical: They cut, taste, wash and above all operate, hands-on, gourmet production.
Mor-Melamed founded the Shirat Ro'im dairy a year ago and produces there 15 kinds of Swiss-style goat cheeses, which are earning praise and selling at gourmet shops like Makolet Gviot in Tel Aviv, Stop Market at Kibbutz Yagur and Ran Buk's Cheese Cellar in Ramat Hasharon.
"All the cheeses require tending," she says, describing her daily work. "Every day you turn the cheeses and rinse them in salt water. There are cheeses that are ready in two weeks. Others, like pecorino, take a year."
Mor-Melamed does not raise goats herself, but rather purchases goats' milk and works with it. Her story, like that of the other entrepreneurs who have established one-person plants, is not routine. She lived in Reut and worked as a speech clinician. In her spare time she would hang glide and even tried parachuting in the Swiss Alps.
On one of her trips there a friend took her to a goat dairy and she was smitten by its charms.
"I was looking for something to do - to take a material and make it into a product, but I didn't know which field to choose," she said. "A personal trainer asked me, 'What would you do if you had a lot of money and the whole family were taken care of?' I replied: 'I'd make cheese in the Alps.' She led me to understand that I needed to move to a more rural area. My partner cooperated. We built a house in Kfar Kish and I looked for a place for a dairy."
Mor-Melamed took a course in the fundamentals of the dairy industry at Ruppin College and apprenticed at dairies in Switzerland. With the help of the office for developing entrepreneurship in Beit She'an, she came into a dairy that had shut down in Kfar Kish.
"This is very difficult physical labor, but it's satisfying. It is suitable for people with the soul of an entrepreneur who aren't afraid of physical work. There are apparently a few more people like that," she says and laughs.
One person who unhesitatingly chose entrepreneurship out of a burning desire to improve her quality of life is Orit Vardi, who produces Mousseline ice creams in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. In the midst of the awakening and burgeoning culinary activity in the market is an ice cream shop where she carefully produces French ice creams.
Vardi was a high-tech employee who became fed up with the demanding lifestyle and rat race. "I knew I was good and had stopped because of the system," she says. "I wanted my children to have a mother at home. What's the point of leaving a child with a babysitter and working late?"
When she decided to make a career change she didn't have many doubts. "I have always loved to prepare food," she says. "I had successfully made ice creams according to recipe books and after that I took courses, including at the Lenotre school in Paris. Today I am making two types of ice cream: French ice creams and fresh fruit sorbets."
For two years Vardi - whose is partial to mandarin sorbet - ran an ice cream shop in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. In February she moved it to Mahane Yehuda and about two moths ago she attended another course at Lenotre.
This time she studied the making of sweets - candies, marmalade, jams and marshmallow. When asked about the difficulty of working with her hands, she hedges her reply: "In my business there is a separation between summer and winter. In summer we work hard, but I enjoy myself. The winter is easier and rewarding. In summer I'd start working every day at 4:00 A.M. and all of August I wasn't with the children - my partner was with them. I compensate for this the rest of the year," she says.
According to her, working alone has advantages: "I don't want to expand too quickly or to jump too high. Everything is under complete control - including life at home. Maybe this what all the entrepreneurs who open solo plants are looking for. But even if I add other businesses, it's clear that I will control them at the same level."
Miri Zorger also runs a one-woman operation. The vagaries of life led her to open a dairy gourmet catering service, including petits fours and pralines she prepares in her home kitchen in Bnei Brak.
Zorger, who is ultra-Orthodox and the mother of four, studied fashion design at the Shenkar school of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. However, toward the end of her studies she was in a traffic accident and for a year was confined to a wheelchair or on crutches.
"Fashion design was connected in my mind to the traffic accident and it was clear to me that I wouldn't work in that field," she says. "I decided to change direction and I enrolled in a course with chef Amir Ilan at the Bishulim [culinary] school. I was the only ultra-Orthodox woman in the class. They looked at me as though I had come from the moon. When everyone tasted, I refrained because of kashrut but I remembered the smells and I duplicated the flavors at home. Then I took a course with Hans Berthollet and I started to make petits fours and pralines. Working with food was becoming a trend in ultra-Orthodox society as well, I got a cooking show on Radio Kol Hai, I took courses abroad and I gradually expanded the business to catering." She adds that she caters to a wide variety of audiences.
"I cook for engagement ceremonies, weddings and fund-raising functions," she says. "Certain Hasidic communities that are looking for special things have become my clients. I also cook for a secular audience: salads, mini-quiches, crostini, baskets of kadaif shreds, barbounia in panko, seared tuna in plates that look like a shell and more. I imported some of the dishes myself from abroad. At especially large events sometimes my daughter helps me but I am managing to support an entire family myself."
Assaf Lavie, who makes Malka Beer, has yet to harvest profits but he feels he is on the right path. The brewery he established on his own two years ago is in Kibbutz Yehiam, under the crusader castle, and his family lives in Klil.
Lavie fell in love with beer during the six years he lived in London and worked at a start-up company. "I would go out drinking with colleagues and that's how I learned to differentiate among kinds of beer," he recalls. "When I came back to Israel I went into partnership in the Irvingka and Blaumilch bars in Tel Aviv. After a few years I fled north with my family, and my brother suggested making beer. I was self-taught - and my learning was accompanied by the spilling of a lot of liters of beer, in the trial and error method. I did everything on my own, from the stage of roasting the grain."
Lavie invited friends to tastings and narrowed the fruit of his labors to three kinds of beer: a light beer in the style of a fruity Belgian ale that is high in alcoholic content and easy to drink, the reddish and bitter Malka Beer and a stout - an Irish beer with a roasted flavor of black coffee and bitter chocolate.
"These are completely different styles - the malt, the hops and the yeast are all different and the taste is different accordingly," he explains. He chose the name Malka because he sought "a name that was Israel-rooted, and also perhaps as a salute to the British [malka is Hebrew for queen], the nation of beer."
Lavie, who produces 1,000 bottles a week, begins his work day at 5:45 A.M.
"I weigh barley and malt, I sterilize bottles, I boil water, I brew 200 liters and bottle what I brewed 10 days earlier. All this happens in an area of 80 square meters," he says.
The brewing is done at about 3:00 P.M. and then he gives the wet malt that remains to the hens.
Lavie, who devotes one day a week to distributing the beer himself, does not yet know how much he wants to expand.
"I'd like to retain the control and the uniqueness, and a small, quiet place," he says. "In the meantime I'm putting off thinking about it."
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