“Sweetness drops From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk Are under your tongue And the scent of your robes Is like the scent of Lebanon.” (Song of Songs 4:11)
Ahead of Shavuot, Basher Fromagerie is swarming with customers seeking the perfect addition for their festive meal. While Basher is always busy, because of the holiday’s custom of eating cheese and dairy products, the store is quite possibly the busiest of all stores in the Jerusalem Mahane Yehuda shuk (market).
Eliyahu (Eli) Basher’s family has been working in the shuk for 65 years. Two generations of Basher’s family owned a Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) home cooked meat restaurant in the shuk, but Eli trail blazed his own path–a French-inspired Fromagerie called “Basher” that he runs with his brother, Dudi.
“Loving cheese is a type of syndrome,” Basher told Breaking Israel News.
“Twenty-five years ago, the sickness was transferred to the customers,” he proudly stated.
Indeed, after tasting Basher’s cheeses, which were ranked fifth in the world by the International Chef Association four years ago, the top places going to American and European Fromageries, there is no doubt that cheese syndrome is contagious.
Hanan Haim opened a Basher store on Agripas Street in Jerusalem in 2014, also inspired by the cultures and tastes of European cheese. After finishing the Israeli army, he went traveling in Holland and Germany for four years. In the Netherlands, he started to learn to love cheese, even working for a few weeks in a cheese shop. When he returned, he got into the restaurant business and opened the third Basher store in Jerusalem.
Haim expressed his pride in helping Basher bring European cheese culture to Israel.
“Twenty years ago, nobody ate brie or camembert,” he said. “They used to eat cottage cheese and white cheese. But Israel’s culinary scene in general became much better in the last 10 years, and people now look for special things to taste.”
Similarly, Basher told Breaking Israel News, “When I opened the store 25 years ago, they called me crazy because there weren’t cheeses in Israel, most were synthetic. And the prices for European cheeses are not like Israeli cheeses.”
But now, he said, people come all over Israel to Basher if they want to find a specific cheese or the best cheese.
But it’s not just Basher’s products that bring customers to the eight stores around the country, it’s his passion for European cheese culture and the care that he puts into finding the best cheeses available.
“Cheese is art. It’s tradition,” Basher said. “Every cheese that I taste, I feel it. It is emotional. It releases serotonin on your brain like chocolate.”
Basher just returned from a cheese trade show in Italy. He is also a judge for European cheese competitions, and has one coming up in Switzerland. In addition to that, every month, he travels to Rungis, a wholesale market in Paris, to keep his stores stocked with cheese, wine, beer, dips, pastas and spreads.
“We only buy premium quality cheeses, top-10 cheeses that win medals in Europe,” Basher told Breaking Israel News.
Even restaurants have begun to buy his cheeses, including Mona, one of the highest rated restaurant in Jerusalem.
Although Israel’s cheeses are not yet on the level of those in Paris, Basher buys approximately five percent of his cheese from some of the best boutique Israeli dairy farms.
This month is especially busy for Basher, with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on May 19-20. Shavuot marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel, but also commemorates the giving of the Torah by God to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
One Shavuot custom is to consume dairy products like milk and cheese. An explanation for this tradition is that the Torah is compared to milk and honey, but the more common explanation is that before receiving the Torah, the Israelites were not obligated to follow the laws of kashrut. After receiving the Torah, since all their meat pots and dishes had to be made kosher before use, they could therefore only eat dairy.
“Our sales rise during Shavuot,” Haim told Breaking Israel News. “We work much, much, much more and go to food markets around the country selling cheese.”