No better time than Shavuot to say cheese

Shavuot — also known as Feast of Weeks, Hag HaBikkurim, Zman Matan Toratenu (Season of the Giving of the Torah) — is a joy-filled holiday. The preparing of dairy-based dishes is a cheese lover’s nirvana.

Why do we eat dairy on Shavuot? One explanation is that serving dairy refreshments to those who have stayed up all night studying Torah alludes to the passage, “And he gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Another interpretation states that before the visit from God, the Jews did not keep kashrut — it was on the first Shavuot that they found their utensils were unfit for use and had no kosher meat to eat. They were forced to consume dairy products.

A pastoral and practical reason: This time of year happens to be the most prolific for cheese production.

My favorite interpretation, from a cook’s point of view, is that the Israelites were so late returning home after receiving the Ten Commandments that their milk had curdled, beginning the process of making cheese. So smile and say “cheese” as all these legends lead to the delicious prospect of a meal consisting of cheese-filled delights, sweet and savory.

Sun-dried Tomato and Herbed Cheese Strudel

Serves 10

4 oz. mild goat cheese

4 oz. cream cheese

2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon (or 1 tsp. dried)

1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into strips

2 Tbs. chopped chives

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

8 sheets phyllo dough, at room temperature

1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease baking sheet.

Combine cheeses with tarragon, tomatoes, chives, salt and pepper until smooth.

Place a sheet of phyllo dough horizontally in front of you. Brush with butter. Continue until you have a stack of four sheets. Do not brush top sheet with butter. Using half the filling, spread an even 3-inch-wide strip about 1 inch from the bottom and 2 inches from the sides. Fold up the bottom and fold in the sides of the dough and roll up like a jelly roll. Place the strudel, seam side down, on the baking sheet.

Brush top and sides with butter. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in top of strudel. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and filling.

Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 30 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Cut 3-inch thick slices with serrated knife.

Cracked Wheat and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 6

1 cup cracked wheat or fine bulgur


11/4 cup very hot tap water

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs. finely chopped oregano

1 Tbs. drained small capers, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup chopped pitted mixed olives

3 large romaine lettuce leaves, coarsely chopped

Freshly ground pepper

6 oz. goat cheese, crumbled (making 1 cup)

In a medium bowl, toss the bulgur with 1 tsp. of salt. Stir in the water, cover with plastic wrap and let stand until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine the red onion with the lemon juice, oregano, capers and garlic and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil and then add the cucumber and olives. Fluff the bulgur with a fork and add it to the dressing. Add the lettuce, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Top the bulgur salad with the crumbled goat cheese and serve right away.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].