Feta cheese

Ezra’s feta, sold at the Heinen’s Fine Foods on South Green Road, is a creamy cheese that doesn’t crumble.

To hear its creators tell it, the story behind Ezra’s feta cheese is as tasty as the product itself.

Ezra’s feta cheese is a unique, cross-cultural product, blending an Israeli dairy with an Ohio cheese manufacturer. While Ezra’s is kosher, the dairy product it uses is Amish.

Ezra’s unites Gad Dairy, the fourth-largest dairy manufacturer in Israel, and Bunker Hill Cheese, a family-owned company in Millersburg devoted to the art of cheese making.

The unlikely pair connected in 2012 when Gad began its search for an American dairy manufacturing partner, and is now producing a kosher-certified product in the U.S. The product is sold at various Kroger stores throughout the Columbus area and at the Heinen’s location on South Green Road in University Heights.

An Ohio company wasn’t on Gad’s radar when it began searching for an American partner, but once the Negev Foundation’s Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative entered the picture, so did Ohio.

Sarah Horowitz, program director for the Initiative, was a key player in the creation of Ezra’s feta. She reviewed the requirements of Gad Dairy, spoke with representatives of various dairy companies throughout Ohio, found four possible matches and made a list for Gad to choose from.

“Gad Dairy was drawn to a family-run business because they’re a family-run business,” Horowitz said. “Bunker Hill has been operated by a family of four generations, and that’s one reason why they were a match.”

Tzvika Dor, director of business and development at Gad Dairy, said Ezra’s feta cheese is the first of its kind.

“Other feta is crumbly,” Dor said. “This product is smooth, and creamy enough to be eaten with a spoon.”

Bob Troyer, vice president of operations at Bunker Hill Cheese, said he and his wife, Lisa, were open to creating a Mediterranean-style cheese because they were looking to expand their line. Horowitz introduced them to Dor and to Ezra Cohen, owner of Gad Dairy and creator of the unique feta recipe. Troyer said Bunker Hill was drawn to the operation.

“When we first met Tzvika and Ezra, they brought samples of their feta, and we immediately fell in love with the product,” Troyer said. “We automatically knew we wanted to do a joint venture with them.”

Troyer said executing Cohen’s recipe involves a process completely different from that of typical cheese making in America, and it results in a completely different kind of feta.

“The texture is so much different from your usual feta,” Troyer said.

Ezra’s feta, along with all of Bunker Hill’s other products, is made from milk that is free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Bunker Hill gets its milk from more than 200 Amish farms, and none of its cheeses are made by commercial operations.

The cheese Gad and Bunker created was sold online only at first, but quickly spread to the grocery market after it debuted at the 2013 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Ezra’s conquered the grocery market with its appearance at the food show, and is now making its way into the restaurant industry.

Two Bunker Hill salespersons, a marketing representative and Dor displayed various forms of the feta at the 2014 National Restaurant Association food show in Chicago May 16-20. Troyer said the event went really well, and the Ezra’s crew made contacts with restaurants, hotels and casinos that are interested in selling the products.

Samples, education about the innovation, and samples were available at the Ezra’s booth at the event. Troyer said the samples were chunks of feta and balled watermelon on a toothpick.

“It’s a common summertime snack in Israel,” Troyer said. “It’s very refreshing, and it’s a quick snack that’s not common in the states.”

Along with introducing the product to a new market, the Ezra’s team plans to introduce a new cream feta at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, set for June 29 to July 1. Troyer said the new product offers a different texture and flavor.

“Our regular feta is smooth enough to spread, but the cream feta spreads a lot nicer,” Troyer said.

He also said that the new cheese would come in flavors such as chocolate, roasted red pepper and garlic and herb.

Ezra’s is a one-of-a-kind product, Troyer said, adding the partnership is working on getting its various flavors into the mouths of the consumers.

“Our current marketing challenge is finding ways for the consumer to taste the product,” he said.

Troyer said in-store demos can be very expensive, so the Ezra’s marketing team is brainstorming different ideas on how to have people taste the feta.

“We know people will want to buy it as soon as they taste it,” Troyer said.

dhess@cjn.org

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