Shai Seltzer has the mien and the aura of a holy man, or perhaps a wizard: he is often swathed in white clothes, his head wrapped in a white turban. He has a long, snowy beard and wears a pair of scholarly wire spectacles. For a man with a snowy beard he is, however, extremely spry with a wild sense of humor that borders on the naughty.
An afternoon with Shai at his Har Eitan Farm, west of Jerusalem, will likely be filled with talk: botany (of which he is a scholar), history, politics, Slow Food (he is of course an activist), cheese-exhilarating enzymes, the life of goats, international cheese conferences (which he regularly attends, and where he is lauded as a superstar), and more. He will expertly pace the sampling of cheeses through your visit, so that the palate will not be overwhelmed—“Slowly, slowly,” he advises. Plainly, these creations still please him greatly, although he must have tasted them hundreds of times.
Botanist, activist, sage, gastronomic magician, Shai is also a teacher who takes in students of cheese making, and who has shared his knowledge with women’s cooperatives in Africa and India, and more locally among the Bedouins, giving them tools and skills to bolster their own microeconomies. Perhaps most importantly, Shai is an artist: “When you are making cheese, you are painting,” he says. “You are painting with milk and with bacteria.”
And indeed, his cheeses are masterpieces.
These stills are from the film The New Cuisine of Israel, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.