Every Jewish festival has a culinary significance and Shavout makes no exception.
Also known as the spring harvest, this festival of weeks, directly translated from the Hebrew, makes two references to the connotations of food, the end of the spring barley and the start of the summer wheat harvest, as well as the dietary laws laid down in the Torah, when given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Shavout is by far my favourite festival, in so much as it is customary to only eat dairy products during the holiday and therefore a cheesecake fest takes place in Israel.
The laws of keeping kosher does not allow milk to be eaten after meat and it is said that as the laws of the Torah were handed down to Moses on Shabbat, there was not enough time to slaughter the animals, so only dairy was eaten and therefore the tradition has been maintained. Israel is also the “land flowing with milk and honey” and it is from that Biblical saying that we eat the dairy products of the land.
The food of Israel has always been greatly influenced by dairy products and with so many of great chefs creating new ideas using artisan cheese from the boutique dairy farms up and down the country, as well as imports from France, restaurant menus are being elevated with innovative ideas for cheesecakes, blintzes, salads and other savoury and sweet dishes.
I am a lover of all cheesecakes and often find myself searching through cookbooks and magazines for recipes with new flavour combinations to incorporate into old recipes. There is great debate as to whether cheesecakes should be baked or unbaked, but to my mind it is down to simple personal preference of whether one prefers the slightly denser baked texture or the lighter more mouse-like dessert that sits on top of a sweet, crumbly biscuit base.
One never needs an excuse to make, bake or eat cheesecake, but if one had to find a reason, Shavout is the perfect justification for it, so without feeling guilty, enjoy the unctuous, creamy, but simply delicious cake of all cakes…..the cheesecake….