Israelis Eating More Fancy Cheeses

Israelis do love their dairy products, it's a well-known fact. Over 50% report that they indulge in mold-ripened varieties such as Camembert and Brie and other luxury cheeses.

Cheese consumption in Israel soared 25% in 2006-2007, reports Simon, a company specializing in gourmet food imports.

Israel imports 1,400 tons of gourmet cheeses annually, but though that may seem like a lot it represents less than 2% of the total local market for fine cheeses, says Simon chief executive Nanny Simon. Of this, about 500 tons are imported from Europe, another 400 tons from the United States, with the remainder coming from other countries. Most Israelis who eat imported cheeses go for Boursin, goat cheeses and Camembert Le Rustique, among others.

In the past two years there has also been a surge in the number of local boutique dairies making and selling cheese, which has boosted domestic sales steadily. Industry sources in the cheese sector say that Tnuva has a virtual monopoly on the local market, selling about 90% of all hard cheeses consumed, with boutique dairies accounting for an additional 8%.

Israelis have also learned how to export gourmet dairy products in recent years, including cheeses. According to Michal Neeman, the Export Institute's head of food sector business development, Israel exported about $200 million in gourmet foods in 2008. This remained unchanged in the first quarter of this year, with exports of $50 million.

Total dairy product exports reached $28.3 million in 2008 and $7.4 million in the first quarter of 2009. Most of this went to North America.