Goats with the Wind: Israel’s Organic Goat Cheese Farm
By Wendy Nevett Bazil
When you drive the 45 minutes from Haifa to the Goats with the Wind farm in the lower Galilee, neither the brain nor the underbody of your car has much time to adjust. One minute you’re driving on a modern highway, and the next you’re in another century, bumping along unevenly on the rock-strewn dirt road which leads to one of the best lunches you will have in Israel.
The farm rises up out of the stones of the Galilee. Many of its buildings are built of the stones handpicked from the land by owners Daliah and Amnon, their family and volunteers. The family live in yurts, and the goats live in a lean-to style shed. Rooms for the volunteers are built alongside and above the goat areas, but the walls and much of the buildings are made of these stones, lending a historic, artistic and organic feel to the place. It’s as if it grew right up out of the hillside.
You’ll be seated in one of several hand-built gazebos, some raised to create the effect of being in a treehouse made private by the foliage. You will be reclining as if at a Seder, seated on hassocks and cushions set upon layers of colorful Turkish rugs. Sitting at a low table set with rustic ceramic cups and carved wooden plates, you will be offered extras to the set menu: Amnon’s wine, Daliah’s haloumi. Take them.
Time slows at Goats with the Wind, and lunch is a leisurely couple of hours spent lounging, sipping and dining on all manner of goats’ cheese—made from the milk of the goats that live here—accompanied by grainy, seedy bread and a variety of vegetable salads. You will be given a small bowl of fresh lebaneh to begin your meal. The lebaneh is more liquid than solid, slightly fizzy and altogether different than any other you’ve had.
Depending on the season, you might then be served a red cabbage salad, vivid with red tomatoes, green herbs and yellow flower petals, and a dish of diced eggplant slow cooked in olive oil, seemingly both confited and then crisped.
The haloumi is arranged in a flower pattern set with tomatoes and hot peppers, and it arrives in a handled cazuela, sizzling and aromatic with garlic and herbs in olive oil. You may request a second loaf of bread to ensure that none of this olive oil goes to waste. There will be plenty of time to nibble at the remainder of the platter of cheeses, all made from the farm’s milk in the farm’s facility in the modern moshav town of Yodfat, a few kilometers—and a few centuries—away.
Stay long enough and you will want to use the guest facilities, a small cave built of stones that you find by wandering down a flower-lined pathway. This little fairy garden of an outhouse is adorned with fresh flowers and bright ceramics.
After lunch, get a glimpse of the kitchen in which your meal was prepared. Daliah cooks in an open-air kitchen anchored by an egg-yolk yellow, Aga-style range and shelves of multi-hued pottery and carved wooden spoons. She prepares all the meals for guests, her extended family and the revolving crew of volunteers who help care for the goats, make the cheese, pick weeds and stones and tend to the vegetables—as well as to the guests.
If you have an interest in history and a desire to stretch your legs before heading back to the city, walk up nearby Tel Yodfat and read the placards explaining that ancient Yodfat (or Jotapata), like Masada, was also the site of a Roman siege and sacking in the first century CE. There, the Romans slaughtered thousands, and the remaining survivors are believed to have had a suicide pact until the last two survivors who surrendered to the Romans. One was Josephus, famous for his histories of both Jotapata and Masada.
When visiting Israel, it’s easy to let a tour guide lead the way and never see beyond the highlights. Lunch at Goats with the Wind, however, is a peek at another, quirkier side of the country. You will have a meal that is uniquely and authentically Israeli, yet wildly different from both the chic and hip chef-driven excitement in the cities and the made for tourist recreations of times past. This is an organic farm that provides an organic experience—not a show for tourists. You get the sense that this is how Daliah and Amnon have been living for years: building with stones, growing their own vegetables, caring for their goats and making their cheese. This is a passion project for its owners—to live and work on this beautiful land. So drive down the rutted road and enjoy this most farm-to-table of experiences.
A lawyer turned cooking instructor, Wendy Nevett Bazil is on a mission to make healthier and delicious home cooking easy and accessible for all: developing recipes, writing a blog and teaching youths and adults in a variety of venues under the name “Healthier Kitchen.” She is also a member of the Montgomery County, Maryland Food Council, where she co-chairs the Food Literacy Working Group.