We fantasized about a tour composed entirely of farmers' markets: Farmers posted behind small stands, selling vegetables still covered with earth and fresh fruits just picked from the trees. There are fruits and vegetables of incomparable beauty and flavor here, but most of them are exported. We thought the increasing awareness of organic food and the return to original flavors would lead, as happened in the United States, to strengthening the direct link between farmers and consumers, and the supply of good produce at lower prices, without the intermediary costs - which would also ensure more suitable compensation for the farmers.
The first such farms, which sell their produce directly to consumers, have opened in Herut, Beit Yitzhak and Mikhmoret. We assumed that the native sons of moshavim who have returned to the villages in the Sharon and Emek Hefer environs are beginning to raise small amounts of specialized or organic crops on their parents' land (which since the crisis in agriculture has stood empty or been leased to factory farms). There are some initial signs of this, but it would be hard to call it a trend. For now, we consoled ourselves at an excellent market that sells vegetables from those pioneering farmers, with the new ice creams of the Jacobs family, with a recently opened bakery selling French bread, and other interesting stops in Emek Hefer.
1. A fine rose
"Mme. Rose of the war" is what people at the Recanati Winery affectionately call the winery's first rose wine, produced from a vineyard of high quality Cabernet Franc grapes, which, because of last year's Lebanon War could not be entered and sprayed at the proper time. It has the charming red color of berry juice from distant places, and is sold in a beautiful bottle with the soft rounded outlines of an elegant lady in a crinoline.
Grapes earmarked for rose wine can be picked even when the level of sugar in the grape is lower, and the light, tasty Mme. Rose received a particularly warm welcome, and even a medal at the French Mondial, the world championship for rose wines. The handsome bottle, carefully chosen from the catalogue of a prestigious French bottle producer, is only one example of the attention devoted to design at the Recanati Winery.
Anyone who was present at the party launching the winery seven years ago cannot forget Mrs. Recanati. With her natural friendliness and impeccable Anglo-Saxon manners, it seemed as though this European-looking lady had mistakenly entered the world of sloppy Mediterranean types.
She is responsible for the winery's attractive labels and for the impressive bottle that contains Recanati special reserve - the prestigious flagship wine and a wonderful blend, with a silver ring wound around its neck.
In addition to the elegant image and the careful Old World design, the Recanati Winery produces excellent wines - some of them in fact clearly California-inspired, from the school of enologist Lewis Pasco, like the unique blend of Petit Syrah and Zinfandel. But mainly, they concentrate on producing a series of wines at reasonable prices - NIS 50-60 per bottle. The winery is located far from the vineyards in the North, in the extremely ugly industrial zone of Emek Hefer, but a visit there offers an interesting tour, and guided and pleasant wine tasting.
Recanati Winery, 217 Gesher Haetz, Emek Hefer Industrial Park, 04-6222288, www.recanati-winery.com
2. Five young men
The fresh, creamy milk produced at the Jacobs Farm is now used not only for cheese, but also for Italian-style ice cream. With the new ice cream machine at the far end of the dairy, they have begun to produce a rich ice cream with a pleasant home-made texture and taste, in classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla and caramel and delectable combinations like the mixture of sweet bananas and sour berries. Just as they started to make cheese by trial and error, tasting and by devoting a great deal of attention to customers' tastes and preferences, they are also slowly progressing with the new products, careful to adhere to the basic principles of producing high-quality ice cream, using good fresh milk and the best ingredients for flavoring.
Five sons were born to the Jacobs family, each more handsome than the next, and all are involved in the work of cheese-making, as well as in marketing and distribution. This has become one of the largest and best-known boutique dairies in the country, and it is always pleasant to visit the small outlet store, which was recently renovated and designed with elegant minimalism. Here one enjoys the consistent quality of cheeses such as Italico, with its nutty fragrance that is great with pasta, or the aged Gouda. You can also taste new cheeses like the Spanish-style Manchego or the cheese in wine.
Jacobs Dairy, Kfar Haroeh, 04-6366111, www.jacobsdairy.co.il
3. Two young women
Had the Tabenkin family, descendants of labor activist Yitzhak Tabenkin, had five beautiful girls instead of two, this story could have ended with a charming and saccharine version of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Nivi Tabenkin, the great- granddaughter of Tabenkin of Ein Harod, came to Kfar Haroeh because of a romance with one of the boys in the Jacobs family. She was followed by her sister, and these two fluent and energetic women opened a bakery, making French-inspired sourdough bread. In flour-coated pants, they are fulfilling the vision of the Labor movement in their own way: From midnight until noon, they bake the loaves of bread in an Italian brick oven.
The initial knowledge and the sourdough culture were acquired from a French baker. Now that the classical French breads with the slightly sour taste and crisp crust are emerging to their satisfaction, Mediterranean-Israeli flavor is being added to them, with herbs and additions such as za'atar (wild hyssop), dates, tomatoes and olives. The bakery and the inviting shop are located in a building that once served as the synagogue of the local school, in one of whose windows is a colorful stained glass rendering of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Aggada Shel Lehem, Kfar Haroeh, 052-2973495, 052-3738291
4. Farmer's market
This fine vegetable market actually started out with mushrooms. The Sefarim family were among the first in the country to cultivate mushrooms, at a time when the growers were still forced to peddle their wares from door to door because most Israelis thought mushrooms were poisonous.
The culinary revolution of the past decades and the Russian aliyah have drastically changed attitudes toward mushrooms, but now the large mushroom incubators are standing empty because the new legislation regarding foreign workers makes it impossible to grow products that are labor-intensive. The main business has become marketing high-quality fruits and vegetables gathered carefully from small plots, some of them experimental, all over the country.
From the mushroom farms in Meona and Zarit come Champignon, Portobello and Jordan mushrooms; on the shelf of citrus fruits from Kerem Maharal stand crates of yellowish organic limes, satsuma mandarins, tangerines, pomelo, pomelit, lemons and navel oranges - the first orange of the season, and the tastiest. (It is not clear if this statement is objective, or if the desire for an orange in a dry month distorted our sense of taste.) From Ramat Hakovesh come mustard and basil sprouts; from the Arava, tiny Tinkerbell peppers and oval Tamar tomatoes; and there is a wide choice of other herbs, vegetables and fruits, some familiar, some less so.
During the week, this market is open only to owners of restaurants and stores. On Thursdays and Fridays, its abundance, offered at lower than usual prices, is also available to private customers.
The vegetable market at Emek Hefer Mushrooms, Kfar Vitkin, 09-8663791, www.pitriot.co.il/index.html
5. Zakuski a la carte
Yisrael Rubinstein opened the family sausage and meat business over 40 years ago in a small shed in Udim, and he still sits in the delicatessen every day with the closed sphinx-like face of a taciturn farmer. According to family legend, by the 1960s he understood that it would be hard to make a living from agriculture, and by stealth acquired the secrets of charcuterie from a drunk who didn't know how to keep his mouth shut during drinking fests in his hometown in Romania. The two sons, Karol and Yohai, also joined the family business and now, not far from the veteran delicatessen, a spacious meat restaurant has opened as well.
The menu caters to the large Russian community, which revived the sausage and meat business in Israel. Appetizers in the style of Russian zakuski include a fat, juicy sausage made of beef and pork, which can be eaten cold but acquires a variety of wonderful flavors from the heat of the grill; hot sliced smoked salmon that comes with shots of vodka; and plates of sausages produced by the factory, such as prosciutto - which still doesn't approach the taste of the real thing - or beef pastrami. When it comes to grilled meat, they offer fine-quality beef steaks, juicy "white" (pork) fillets and the delicatessen's famous Romanian kebab. An entire section of the menu is devoted to stews; some of them, like the pork osso buco with cabbage, have a clear Eastern European inspiration and seasoning.
Rubinstein, 17 Gibborei Yisrael, Poleg Industrial Zone, 09-7888838
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