Israeli Wine and Cuisine: It’s All About Local, Connection to the Land

June 28, 2018

4 min read

A team of top Israeli wineries along with the Herbert Samuel’s Chef Mor Cohen are highlighting the local wine and food scene in a tribute series of set menus at the Ritz Carlton Herzliya for Israel’s 70th.

In reflecting about what is unique about Israel’s local wine and food scene at 70, Chef Cohen told Breaking Israel News, “Today, it is clear that Israeli cuisine is a mixture of cultures together with great local ingredients.”

This delicious mix of cultures – a result of the prophetic ingathering of the exiles – and the focus on local ingredients are not just trends in Israel, but part of its DNA. As many of Israel’s neighbors have been less than friendly in the short history of the country, Israel has had to rely on its own agriculture and citizens for its food economy.   

Yakir Tamam, Culinary Director of the Herbert Samuel maintained that through the use of high-quality local ingredients, one can create dishes that are both “local and luxurious” and “act as a culinary salute to the traditions of this region and prove that culinary excellence is another source of national pride for Israel and its people.”

Similarly, said Cohen, “Our greatest accomplishments have been in the ability to produce top-level locally sourced ingredients.”

Because of Israel’s size and geographic diversity, he explained, Israeli restaurants have access to ingredients within driving distance so that they are fresh and ready for food production soon after they leave the source. “That translates into very fresh cuisine without ever compromising on taste and the options that we have to offer our diners,” added Cohen.

As a result, Israel’s chefs and food producers are increasingly being recognized on the international scene. Cohen explained, “Over 70 years, the variety of ingredients has grown substantially and with that grows the variety of restaurants that can offer different cuisines. There is no doubt that we have succeeded in producing an environment that thrives in mixing many different food cultures and tastes while leveraging locally sourced ingredients – all this is true for both food and wine where restaurants and vineyards are achieving global recognition.”

The series of four events, which began in March and goes through mid-October, celebrates the country’s culinary accomplishments and utilizes local ingredients and flavors. Each event is composed of a five-course kosher meal with a menu carefully designed by the restaurant’s chef in tandem with the wineries’ sommeliers.

The features of the wine, working to best highlight each region and flavor, carefully guided the construction of each dish.

Featured wines highlighting the Carmel Heights and Valleys. (Credit: Eliana Rudee)

“While typically it is the food that defines the wine, here the culinary experts are working on the opposite track, where the wines – each with a different character from different parts of the country – will serve to define how the meal is structured,” said a Ritz Carlton spokesperson.

“As a rare occasion where competing wineries will be working with another – and one of Israel’s top young chefs, Mor Cohen of the Herbert Samuel – the wine and food series leverages local ingredients and flavors,” added the spokesperson.

“I believe that healthy competition combined with the ability to compliment and learn from one another is the true foundation of a growing food and wine culture,” voiced Cohen.

The first series, highlighting the Golan Heights Region on Israel’s northern border, featured the Golan Heights winery. According to Tamam, the region’s high elevation sources some of the nation’s best fruit trees including apples, almonds and plums, as well as beef and lamb.

“As in every country that makes wine, the terrain plays a big role in the flavor of the wine,” Cohen noted.

The second series, highlighting the Judean Hills, featured Flam, Castel and Tzora wineries. According to Tamam, the Judean hills are renowned for flavors that are derived from the region’s herbs, spices and mushrooms that thrive in the cool and mineral rich mountains that surround the Jerusalem area. With a terrain that combines both forested area and numerous valleys and open space, the region has been producing unique flavors and dishes since ancient times.  

The third series, highlighting the Carmel Heights and Valleys, was heavily influenced by the traditions of the Druze population who live along the mountain ridge and in the surrounding valleys; as well as the presence of large flocks of sheep and access to the fish of the Mediterranean that have been feeding this area for centuries. According to Tamam, agriculture of the nearby Hefer Valley contributes some of the country’s best vegetables and flavors – perfect pairings for Tulip, Maya and Bat Shlomo wineries.

Wild seabass dish highlighting the Carmel Heights and Valleys. (Credit: Eliana Rudee)

“In Carmel Heights and valleys we found a lot of salty, fruity, crisp and mineral notes in the wine so we accompanied those flavors with a combination of fresh local fish and fruits like apricots and nectarines,” said Cohen.

According to Tamam, the final series, highlighting the Negev Mountains and Yatir and Midbar wineries, is a region that despite its classification as a desert, gives remarkable produce that utilizes the dry conditions combined with the salt of the earth and vegetation to present a myriad of flavors. The meal introduces fish from the Red Sea further south and utilizes food preparation techniques that the native Bedouin population has been perfecting for centuries.

Reflecting on Israel’s first 70 years and looking forward to the next 70, Chef Cohen maintained, “If you add knowledgeable winemakers and great natural resources than you’ll have great food and wine experiences. At 70, Israel can take pride in our culinary excellence alongside our many other cultural, economic and national accomplishments.”

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