A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
Yesterday I was chatting with a friend and in so doing realized that if forced to choose I’d rather give up booze than cheese. Given that recent epiphany, I figured that it’s high time to write about one of my favorite things – cheese.
In my last post I mentioned the best day of my life. It’s now time to talk about the second best day of my life, which was the day I witnessed somebody purchase over 2,000 NIS (~$500) worth of cheese. Not only did I get to sample everything he sampled since I was standing behind him in line, but this gave me something new to aspire to: to have the means and the occasion to make such a purchase on my own one day.
This fateful day took place, of course, and the Bashar fromagerie in the shuk. This is the most wonderful shop in the world, selling a vast array of pretty much every kind of fresh cheese, as well butter, packaged soft cheeses, wine, beer, fresh breads, and homemade (though I’m not sure by whom) pasta. The store is always packed, but the guys who work behind the counter are very patient and always give samples as you decide what to buy. I have made many good discoveries there, including sainte maure, pesto gouda, and some of the best bries and roqueforts I’ve ever had. Plus you can get actual cheddar there.
As a responsible blogger, it would be remiss not to mention the controversy surrounding the store. The store does not have a teudah. The people who work in the store claim all their cheese is kosher. Lots of kippa-wearing people shop there. Recent investigations have yielded allegations that the workers there blatantly lie about the kashrut of their cheese, which is actually known to be non-kosher. Fewer religious people shop there now. My stance is that I don’t really care. I realize that might make me a bad Jew and that you might not want to eat in my house anymore and that you probably don’t want to shop at Bashar. That is fine. (And don’t worry, ever since these allegations arose I stopped serving Bashar cheese to any guests who did not explicitly tell me they don’t mind.) Bashar also has shops in other areas of the country, such as Tel Aviv and Ra’anana. Regardless of what does or does not go on in their Jerusalem shop, I know plenty of religious people shop in the Ra’anana branch. I do not know if that branch faces similar issues.
However, for you heathens like me out there, you might be excited to know that Bashar the shop has opened Bashar the restaurant on Aggripas just across the street from the shuk. The restaurant serves only dairy, but if you question the cheeses in the shop, you probably question the cheeses in the restaurant too. In any case, the restaurant is great. It’s located in a very old Jerusalem stone building with a huge wine cellar, not just with wine but with seating for parties, downstairs. The tables are made from olive wood, which, combined with the exposed stone and intimate lighting, give the restaurant a romantic feel.
The menu features all sorts of cheesy goodness, including various kinds of bruschettas, salads, pasta, and quiches. You can also get non-cheese-infused foods, like fish. And of course you can order a cheese plate, which comes with fresh fruit as well as bread. If you order the cheese plate though, I highly recommend asking for specific cheeses, because otherwise they’ll bring you from their more mediocre (and cheaper) fare. The wine list is quite extensive, and the beer on tap features an interesting selection – for Jerusalem (meaning you have options beyond Carlsburg, Tuborg, and Stella).
The good news for, if you don’t trust Bashar and/or you don’t want to travel all the way to the shuk for cheese, is that you can get great certifiably kosher cheese right on Derech Beit Lechem, at Beit Lechem. Beit Lechem is ostensibly a bakery, though their bread is by far their most inferior product. (It’s not made on the premises.) Besides bread, they sell all sort of specialty oils, pastas, and spreads. And they have a cheese refrigerator. The selection is obviously not as extensive or foreign as Bashar’s, but they know their cheese and they have some great stuff. I ate the best brie of my life there, and to my great regret, I cannot remember what it was specifically and have never been able to find it since.