An oasis for people – and goats – in the Negev

Photo: The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant is a welcome oasis in the Negev.

Located along road 40 in the direction of Sde Boker an unassuming cluster of structures rises from the Negev desert. Those travelers who stop by The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant will be in for a treat for all the senses.

Owners Anat and Daniel Kornmehl, who studied agriculture at Hebrew University, started the farm in 1997. Initially, they wanted to set up shop in Jerusalem, but after five years of struggling through red tape, they set their sights on the current location.

Where all cheese made on the farm begins.

In Israel, since the land is not privately owned, you have to fill out an application describing precisely what you want to do with the property and submit it to the government – then they will say yes or no.

“We applied that we wanted to have land near Jerusalem for goat grazing and cheese making and they said, ‘Do you have a goat?’ and we said, ‘No.’ They said it didn’t work like that – you have to have the goat first,” says Anat.

At that time Daniel was working with famed Israeli cheesemaker, Shai Seltzer. He offered to pay Daniel with a goat instead of money so they could start their business.

A selection of hard and soft cheeses served with a cooked cinnamon apple.

“We went back to the office, and we said, ‘We have a goat, can we have the land?’ ” says Anat. “Unfortunately that didn’t work out. Then we came to the Negev.”

Twice daily, the goats are milked, and the milk is transferred to the dairy the couple built themselves. All cheese is made there, using traditional methods. They make interpretations of French varieties and name them after the goats – “Giving credit to the producers,” says Anat.

The type of goats on the farm are Anglo-Nubian, a breed that is adapted to the dry, desert climate. They are fed a diet of alfalfa hay, corn and soybeans, which produces very rich milk. The goats are antibiotic and hormone-free.

Comfortable cushions and a view of the terraced flower bed and the desert beyond beckons visitors.

Since they are a free-standing establishment, not connected with any kibbutz or moshav, they have to deal with the vast amount of wastewater that a dairy farm produces on their own. The couple contacted Professor Amit Gross, director of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, who, along with Ph.D. and master’s students, worked on a wetland system to filter the greywater.

All the wastewater from the farm is stored in black tanks. The quantity varies depending on the number of visitors to the farm, and if the Kornmehls worked in the dairy that day.

“The liquid from the tanks comes into the system that is (located under) terraced flower beds,” says Anat. “The system is amazing. It collects all the water, and it is filtered through big and small stones where the bacteria is reworked. When it comes out of the system, it is good enough for irrigation.”

The process removes approximately 80% of the impurities from the water. They cannot use the water for vegetables, but they can use it on flowers, trees and shrubs, plants that would use up “good” water otherwise. In an area that receives less than 4 inches of rain a year, this system makes a big difference.

Visitors can enjoy the views of the flower beds along with sweeping vistas of the desert, including remnants of terraces dating back to the Middle Bronze period (3,000-4,000 BCE).

The views just add to the ambiance of the restaurant. Diners are greeted by a delightful staff who usher you to sit on low, colorful divans and dine on cheese platters, homemade bread, pizza, salads and more.

Makes a weary traveler glad that Anat and Daniel never gave up on their dream – and that they finally got that first goat!

The stars of Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant.

Mala was fortunate to be part of the 14th Murray Fromson Journalism Fellowship and will continue to share stories of the research being done in collaboration with the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

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