From sizzling potato latkes with cheddar cheese to tangy mozzarella cheese pizzas and delectable Muenster cheese toasts, the festive Chanukah holiday traditionally kindles a range of culinary activities in the kitchen.
The inspiration to whip up a dairy delicacy on Chanukah has a variety of root sources, the oldest of which is derived from one of the post-Biblical books that were written during the Second Temple era, when the Maccabees, who hailed from the Modiin region of Central Israel, began their rebellion against the Assyrian Greek regime in Judea.
According to the Book of Judith, when a renowned Assyrian warrior named Holofernes was on the verge of conquering the town of Bethulia, a Jewish widow named Judith came to the Assyrian military camp. She filled Holofornes with salty cheese and an abundance of wine. When he became drunk and defenseless, Judith chopped off his head and the Assyrian garrison fled from the area. Thus, the widow’s victorious dairy delicacy became a holiday staple amongst the local Jewish population.
After the Jews were exiled from the Holy Land, Chanukah cheese dishes disappeared from view, emerging once again in the 10th century. According to the late Gil Marks, the respected chef and author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, “When people started to eat dairy dishes on Chanukah in the Middle Ages, it was the Sephardic Jews who first introduced cheese into holiday dishes. Over the centuries, the tradition spread to Ashkenazic Jews in Europe.”
Ironically, it was the Spaniards who introduced the potato into the European diet in the 16th century, after they had conquered huge portions of Peru and Bolivia, where the potato plant was discovered and cultivated by the Inca Indians. Thus, potato latkes, which became popular amongst Ashkenazic Jews, were actually brought to Europe by Spanish gentiles!
As new and different cheeses became popular amongst both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews during the Middle Ages to the modern era, amateur and professional cooks alike were inspired to create new Chanukah dishes.
Today, with so many dairy cheese products to choose from, all one needs are lip-smacking menus, premium ingredients, and a hunger to whip up something festive and tasty. Tnuva, the Israeli dairy producers and cheesemakers, recently introduced their newest items, including cheddar, mozzarella, and muenster cheeses, available in cheese sticks, chunk, and sliced varieties. The premium cheeses–cheddar, mozzarella and muenster–are “Cholov Yisroel,” strictly supervised from the farm to the final packaging by the New Square Rabbinical Kashrus Council, the Orthodox Union, and the united Mehadrin Hechsherim under the Va’ad Mehadrin Council.
In order to celebrate the holiday in true culinary fashion, we offer readers an exclusive Chanukah recipe prepared by Ulises Gold, sous-chef at the luxurious Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel.
Potato & Cheddar Cheese Latkes
2 grated potatoes
1 grated medium onion
3.5 oz. Tnuva grated cheddar cheese
2 green onions
For the sauce:
100 grams cream cheese
1 oz. anchovy (optional)
1 spoon chopped parsley
1.5 oz. sweet cream
Chopped green olives
1. In a bowl, combine the potato mixture, onion, cheese, and chopped green onion, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan. Drop about 1 tablespoon of mixture for each latke into the skillet and fry, turning once. When golden and crisp on both sides, place on paper towels to drain.
3. For the sauce, mix the ingredients to get a creamy texture. Serve either on the side of the latkes or drizzle above the latkes and decorate with chopped olives. Chag Sameyach!
By Steve Walz