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A West Bank dairy farm churns out gourmet cheese

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

An unexpected product is growing out of the rocky hills of the northern West Bank. On a hot fall day Kemal Daher and Abu Sultan Zakzuk kneaded, then coaxed stringy white mozzarella cheese into glossy globes.

For the past three years, the Golden Sheep dairy has churned out pecorino, mozzarella, scamorza, and ricotta cheese, along with thick white yogurt after a master Palestinian cheesemaker traveled to Italy to learn the craft. Red pepper, saffron, and zaatar add local flavor to the yellow wheels. The cheese ages in a room fitted with an air conditioner and a wet blanket.

The dairy is part of a $1.7 million agriculture station that includes 80 sheep and goats, a fodder store, and a veterinary clinic. Funding comes from the European Commission, a Swiss foundation, and the Italian town of Boltsano. Italian agronomist Stefano Baldini, who helped launch the program, says that this year Golden Sheep earned about $36,000 in sales, enough to make it financially independent.

The cheese is not for everyone: Mr. Daher says he can’t afford to pay $25 per kilogram (about 2 lbs.), while Mr. Zakzuk says his children won’t touch it. But some Palestinians will. “Lots of [Palestinians have] traveled abroad,” says Mr. Baldini. “They know what cheese is available in France and Italy, and they are proud to buy Palestinian.”


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