The spring holiday of Shavuot resonates in Jewish tradition with the giving of the Torah, the appearance of the season's first fruits (which pilgrims of old brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem), the end of the counting of the Omer, and the start of the harvest. With the renewal of Jewish settlement in the land of Israel in the 19th and 20th centuries, agriculture once again took centre stage in Jewish life, and Shavuot -- traditionally celebrated with the consumption of dairy foods -- continues to be observed everywhere with a wealth of dairy recipes. In Israel, supermarket shelves bulge with a mind-boggling selection of sweet and sour milk products and cheeses, and freezer boxes almost burst with an array of dairy delights, from bourekas to blintzes and cheesecake to quiche.
What does Ramat Hanadiv have to do with Shavuot? It's our goats, the herd that plays an important role in managing the Nature Park: thinning out plants, opening the dense growth in the woods, reducing the risk of forest fires, contributing milk to local dairies and knowledge to scientific research. We promised you some time ago that we would make another visit to the herd, and Shavuot is the perfect opportunity. As the goats returned from their grazing in the Nature Park, each group finding its proper place in the goat shed, we stopped to chat with its director, Dr. Tzach Glasser, and ask him a few dairy questions.
What are the ingredients of what we call 'milk'?
Generally speaking, milk is composed of about 87% water and 13% dry solids. The solids are made up, in turn, of fats, proteins and lactose, which is essentially the sugar found in milk. In addition, this highly nutritional liquid contains a range of vitamins and minerals. The milk from Ramat Hanadiv's goat herd has a higher percentage of proteins (3.7%) than the national average (3.1%).
This is important for dairy consumers to know, whether they're drinking or cooking with it or eating goats'-milk cheeses, which are made up primarily of proteins. The main reason for the high proportion of protein in our goats' milk is that Ramat Hanadiv's herd consists of local goat breeds, which tend to give relatively small amounts of milk compared to herds made up of imported breeds, but their milk has a higher quantity of solids. Another reason is their nutrition which is composed mainly of natural plants collected during grazing in the park.
What's so special about goats' milk?
Goats' milk, unlike that of cows and sheep, contains smaller fat globules, making it easier to digest. Some people who are sensitive to the lactose in cows' milk have no problems digesting the lactose in goats' milk.
A fascinating interesting experiment is being conducted now at Ramat Hanadiv's goat shed by the Volcani Institute and The Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture at Rehovot. The study is comparing how two different kinds of feeding -- natural grazing vs. feedings of hay -- influence the nu
tritional value of goats' milk. The study is based on two groups in our herd. One goes out to pasture regularly, while the other is fed hay in the goat shed. Every month tests are carried out on these goats' raw milk, on their pa
steurized milk, and on yoghurt made from the milk, and the products from the two groups are compared. Similarly, the milk products derived from cows and sheep are studied with particular attention to the effect of processing on milk's nutritional characteristics. We will pay another visit to the goat shed as soon as the scientists are ready to share the results of their tests.
What happens in the process of manufacturing milk products?
Yoghurt: Milk is heated to 90˚ C, then cooled to 45 ˚ C, when heat-loving (thermophiles) bacteria are added. It's kept at this temperature for about eight hours, when it turns into yoghurt.
Labana (a cheese-like sour milk product typical of the Middle Ea
st): This is basically strained yoghurt, which contains a much smaller amount of liquid.
Cheese: A number of methods and ingredients (enzymes, vinegar, bacteria or others) can be employed to separate the milk solids from the liquids. The water is strained out through molds that determine the final shape of the cheese.
The production of cheese varies widely and can take from one day to several months, depending on the type of cheese. At Ramat Hanadiv we don't produce milk products; the raw milk from our herds is sold to the Gvinot Hashomron dairy in nearby Binyamina, which uses it to manufacture a variety of products.
What's your favourite dairy food?
Anything that's been made locally and subject to as little processing as possible!
This Shavuot, we want to give a special thank-you to Tzach Glasser, the staff of the goat shed, and to its volunteers. Through rainstorms and heatwaves, in mud and in dust, they work every day of the year to ensure that our herd stays healthy and safe, and that we will all continue to enjoy a living, breathing Mediterranean landscape and a richer understanding of the animal world.