Friday, August 31, 2012

Bulgarian Cheese Is Made in Israel

I saw a commercial on television the other day depicting some well-known food products and linking them on a map to their countries of origin. One of those items was Bulgarian Cheese and it was displayed against the map and flag of Bulgaria.

Wait a minute, I thought. There is no Bulgarian Cheese in Bulgaria! That’s just another urban legend, created by the mad men of Israeli marketing.
Having lived and worked in Bulgaria for two years, I can state as a fact that there are only two kinds of local cheese sold in Bulgarian supermarkets. All hard yellow cheese is called Kashkaval, and all blocks of white cheese are somewhat similar to Feta.

Although the same color as Israel’s Tzfatit cheese, the white cheese in Bulgaria is not salty or soft. Its primary usage is being grated and sprinkled over Shopska, the Bulgarian national salad, or over French-fried potatoes.

Israeli cheeses are far superior to anything consumed in Bulgaria and the prime example of this is cottage cheese. Israel’s cottage cheese is so good that its price, more than any other factor, was the cause of last year’s wave of social protests that sent hundreds of thousands into the streets. In fact, the cottage cheese is so good that if weren’t for humus, cottage cheese would certainly be considered Israel’s national food.

While strolling up and down the aisles of Bulgarian supermarkets we were repelled by small containers of imitation cottage cheese imported from Germany and France. The consistency and taste of this fake cheese was so bad that even the gypsies who roamed the cobblestone streets outside our apartment building looking for handouts wouldn’t take it if we paid them.

Sometimes when we were watching foreign television stations in our Sofia apartment (foreign television stations in this case were those located north of the border in Bucharest) and we would see advertisements for Tnuva products. How could it be that Tnuva marketed in Romania, but its products had yet to come to Bulgaria? Seeing the familiar logo made us even more homesick for Israeli cheeses.

As for yogurts, well, that is completely a different story. Bulgaria has probably the best yogurt in the world. Nothing in Israel comes close to the thickness and rich flavor of Bulgarian yogurt, not even the 3.6% Greek yogurt that you see in local stores.

A favorite dessert we enjoyed when traveling in the Bulgarian mountains was delicious sheep’s yogurt, with honey sprinkled delicately on top. Yoplait, Tnuva, Danona – guys, you don’t know the first thing about making yogurt.

Bulgarian Cheese is made in Israel, but Bulgarian yogurt has yet to hit the supermarket shelves. If that doesn’t happen soon, we may need to take the next flight back to Sofia to indulge in this Balkan delicacy.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

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