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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.

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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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