Art and cheese

Dairies and galleries add to the charm of the hilltop town.

Art galleries in Safed (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Art galleries in Safed
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
The Meiri Dairy
In 1837, Persian goldsmith Meir Arzoni heard the news of Safed’s earthquake some months after it happened. Fired with the determination to help rebuild the devastated town, he packed up his possessions, put his family on horseback and emigrated. He bought a house in Safed at the bottom of the Jewish Quarter and changed the family name to Meiri.
The enterprising Meiri used a local resource to establish a new business: making cheese. Sheep and goats roamed the nearby wadi and hillsides, and their milk was abundant. With buckets of that milk and plenty of grit, the first commercial dairy in Israel began production in the cool stone family home. To this day, Meiri’s descendants make delicious cheeses there.
The founder willed that the family must name a son either Shlomo or Meir in alternating generations. That son would be the sole designated heir of the dairy, to be responsible for continuing the enterprise. The business would have fallen to the present Shlomo, but he is incapacitated due to a childhood ailment, so his brother Yaniv has taken on the role of heir. Yaniv and his father, the present Meir, create the salty white cheese known all over Israel. They say that the cheese’s unique flavor is due to minimal handling of their free-range sheep and the spring water used in all stages of production. The Meiri Dairy produces Bulgarian cheese, the classic Tsfati, creamy labaneh and blue cheese.
Groups may reserve space for cheese tastings. There is a restaurant attached to the facility as well (meals are also by reservation). There is a sound-and-light show about the dairy for groups, which is open on Fridays to the public.
The dairy also houses a small museum with historical artifacts and photographs that capture the ancient way of life in Safed.
Dairy hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are guided tours on Fridays at noon. Call Yaniv at 052-372- 1609.
The Kadosh Dairy
On almost every corner in Safed’s Old City, there is a sign with an arrow pointing to Safed Cheese. Follow the signposts all the way down cobblestone streets until you reach the end of Ari Street and the edge of town, overlooking Nahal Amud. On your right is the Kadosh Dairy.
Long ago, a Moroccan boy of 12 walked all the way to Israel. He was to become was the founder of the Kadosh Dairy in Safed. Observing local shepherds, he learned to make cheese from sheep’s and goat’s milk.
Today, Shlomo Kadosh, that boy’s great-great grandson, is still making the original salty white cheese and has expanded production to include cheese infused with Merlot wine, goat’s cheese, the pungent kashkaval, Bulgarian, ricotta and Camembert.
The hard cheeses are aged from six months to two years, maturing in woven straw baskets. In addition to the solid cheeses, there are yogurt and labaneh. The dairy also offers cheese-stuffed vine leaves, olive oil and delectable handmade halva.
Visitors may sit down and taste the cheeses and halva. Shlomo or one of his family members will also offer coffee brewed in a huge finjan to sip at your leisure.
The Kadosh Dairy is open from 9 a.m. until nightfall.
Tel: (04) 692-0326.
Safed’s art galleries
Safed is awash with art galleries. Artists have lived and exhibited there since the mid- 1930s, inspired by the landscapes or mysticism or perhaps Safed’s rural tranquility. There’s a Bohemian air in the mountain breezes, a unique mix of Oriental and European influences. It encourages artists to express themselves in every medium throughout the blue-painted town.
Sculptures grace public parks and often private gardens as well. Beautifully decorated gates and doors and colorful street art gladden the eye as you walk around. In the Old City, there are dozens of studios and galleries.
The Artists’ Quarter
Down from Yerushalayim Street, which is the main commercial street, and at the bottom of a long, winding road, you’ll find yourself at the beginning of the Artists’ Quarter.
Continue walking downward and you’ll pass The Sleeping Spring, a live stream that was covered to stop mosquito infestations. It’s now an amphitheater/arena where bands play during the annual Klezmer Festival.
All around are homes and studios of local artists. It’s just a matter of choosing which direction to walk, which stairway to go up or down.
There’s a gallery every few houses along those lanes.
Yosef Caro Street, the covered alley
Walk down the stone stairway that divides the old part of Safed and find yourself in Avraham Sadeh Square, where tourist buses park. Cross to the left, down to the covered alley, where a juice stand tempts your thirst. On your right, there’s what looks like a junk shop, but keep an open mind and look through the antique flat irons, bronze menoras, dusty hookahs, mechanical salt cellars and Turkish daggers. You’re sure to find some appealing artifact from the past to take home.
Continue strolling down the alley.
On every side there are intriguing galleries and shops selling art.
Art lovers should plan to spend at least a couple of hours in the cobblestoned street, where micro-calligraphy, ceramics, metalwork, glasswork, Judaica and much more are on offer. The Yosef Caro Synagogue is located there. Little sunlit, offshoot stairways lead to yet other art exhibits and shops.
The Fig Tree Courtyard
Once the fortress-like home of a wealthy family, the Fig Tree Courtyard, now home to a number of art shops, branches off Alkabetz Street. Another property where studios and art shops share space is Sarah’s Tent, a courtyard off Alkabetz Street.
To add to the profusion (and confusion), Yosef Caro and Alkabetz streets meet somewhere in the middle of the alley and continue as one.
No one really knows where one ends and the other begins, except for the municipal planners, and they haven’t put up a sign.
The General Exhibition is a center for small galleries lodged in niches carved into the rocky hillside to make small shops. Many resident artists exhibit there, as well as artists who live outside Safed.
While there’s plenty of run-of-themill stuff that passes as art, there are also many serious artists producing fine work. As with the wines of the Galilee, sip and taste as you go along, and be prepared to pay real prices for real art. Some artists live and exhibit away from the popular artist’s areas.
Beautiful original pottery is found in Daniel Flatauer’s studio on Yud-Alef Street below the General Exhibition.
If Kabbalist art intrigues you, visit David Friedman’s home on Bar-Yohai Street. Neither studio is in the Artists’ Quarter, but if you’re walking around the town and taking in the sights, follow the street signs and walk in.