"That must have been some salty cheese!” laughs Lisa Jacobs of Jacobs Creamery in Centralia, upon learning the legend of Judith. Despite her Jewish upbringing, she hadn’t heard this bit of holiday lore and was excited to learn of another intersection of her religion and profession.
Even before learning of cheese’s potential as a holiday food, Jacobs has seen how her own religious practices integrate with her business. The self-described “world’s only Irish-Jewish cheesemaker” lives far from the small, very tight Jewish community in Dublin, where she grew up. At age 6, she moved with her family to the United States and transferred to a Jewish day school in California. “Ethics were part of classes; we were taught about integrating Torah into everyday life.” These days, she’s not sure how many other Jews live nearby, and there’s no synagogue to attend. But, she says, “I always resonated with principles more: how to be a good person.”
Jacobs Creamery opened in 2006, after Jacobs had dropped out of law school and was using her free time to catch up on reading, when inspiration to become a cheesemaker struck. “I was reading a book about a grandmother passing on the family cheese recipe to a new generation in the Alps, and immediately went online at three in the morning and signed up for a cheesemaking class on the East Coast.” Armed with just her short class and the desire to break up with her boyfriend, Jacobs marched in to get a license to make cheese. Turns out she needed a cheese vat, an approved food-processing area, and pasteurizing equipment. She had $100 and was in no position to purchase a $38,000 cheese vat.
Jacobs is not one to shy away from a challenge. She quickly found a local facility to rent time in and a farmer from whom to purchase milk. Never mind that she’d made cheese only on a minuscule scale. “I had never been on a dairy farm,” she says. The homemade mozzarella she brought with her to a meeting with a farmers market manager did the trick in convincing people she would be capable of operating a full-scale cheese operation.
Jacobs recently created a custom cheese for her sister’s marriage to an Italian man by the name of Gabrielli. The cheese is a nutty, semisoft Italian style with floral and vanilla notes. Most of Jacobs’ cheeses can be found at Portland-area farmers markets and local PCC Natural Markets.
“I like making people happy,” Jacobs says. “I get that feeling of delight when people tell me they served my cheese.”
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Want a break from the traditional latke? Throw some parmesan or feta into your potato mix, or try this cottage–cheesy alternative, adapted from Deb Perelman at The Smitten Kitchen.
- 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 3 T butter, melted
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ⅓ cups finely chopped walnuts (optional)
- ⅓ cup dried currants, plumped (optional)
- 2 large egg whites
- Maple syrup, honey, or plain yogurt (optional, for serving)
(1) Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon or nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, cottage cheese, butter, egg yolks, and vanilla.
(2) Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and gently whisk, mixing just until combined. Stir in the walnuts and/or currants, if using.
(3) Beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry, and fold them into the batter.
(4) Spoon ⅓ cup batter onto a griddle for each pancake. Cook until the top of each pancake is starting to dry around the edges, then turn and cook until the underside is lightly browned. These will keep in a 200–degree oven but are best served immediately, while light and puffy.