“Making the desert bloom” may not come to mind as you travel along Route 40 through the bare hills of Israel’s Negev desert. But venturing off the beaten path between Beersheva and Sde Boker will turn you on to one of the region’s most delicious hidden treasures.
The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant was started almost 20 years ago by Anat and Daniel Kornmehl, who had been studying agriculture at Hebrew University. Daniel had also studied cheese-making in France. After graduating and traveling around Australia and the United States, the couple came back to Israel with the intent of raising goats and starting their own cheese business.
“I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture in the extension service for farmers,” Anat said. “I was teaching sheep and goat farming, and then we decided that this is what we want to do. We want to practice agriculture and sell a product.”
They wanted to start their business in Jerusalem but were put off by the bureaucracy, so they decided to raise their own goats. The Kornmehls applied for a grazing license, only to be told they needed the actual goats first.
“At that time, Daniel was starting cheese-making in one of the places in Jerusalem, and they got an agreement that instead of getting money for the work that he did there, he [would] get 12 young goats,” Anat said.
The Kornmehls raised the goats for five years, only to be repeatedly met with red tape.
“We got to a point where we said, enough is enough. We either sell the goats or I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.
They ended up settling on government-owned land just north of the Sde Boker kibbutz in 1997. Four kids and almost two decades later, the couple still does not have a permit, but they have been living on the site and going strong with their business.
“This is why we live in a compound, we can’t build a house yet after 18 1/2 years,” she said.
In addition to the restaurant, they offer tastings and opportunities to watch the goats being milked. March and April is when farmers see their largest yield of goat’s milk, because female goats usually get pregnant in July and start producing milk two months before they have kids. But the kids drink some of the mothers’ milk during infancy, which is around November and December.
The hard cheeses are in season first during the spring, and they then become progressively softer as the warm months progress.
Kornmehl’s menu is none too overwhelming, but includes a series of effective outlets for getting cheese in the stomach, including a calzone with goat cheese, tomatoes and red peppers; and fried phyllo dough-wrapped goat cheese pieces that express “fresh from the farm” like no other style of goat cheese. You can also order a sampler plate that includes a selection of hard and soft cheese varieties.