When I had my first bite of the blueberry cheesecake at Kapulsky, Israel’s legendary first cafĂ© and restaurant chain, it wasn’t my first cheesecake, but it was a novelty nonetheless. We rarely dined out. It wasnâ€™t just a question of economicsâ€”dining out just wasnâ€™t part of our culture. Homemade food was considered superior in flavor and quality. Besides, other than falafel, shawarma and “street food” stands, in those days, unlike today, cafĂ©s and restaurants were few and far between in Israel.
As a young adult who dined out on only a handful occasions, if that, I savored Kapulsky’s cheesecake and what was, to me, an exotic ingredient: blueberries. I had never had them before, but they popped with tartness, which I was predisposed to liking, rather than syrupy sweetness.
It’s a wonder that Israel had blueberries, which are indigenous to cooler northern climates, at all at the time. But as one recipe I saw indicated, they may have, in fact, come from a can.
Little did I know that my beloved cheesecake was no-bake and super easy to make. With Shavuot, the holiday celebrating Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, during which dairy foods are typically consumed, around the corner, Kapulsky’s blueberry cheesecake was a shoo-in.
Israel, the land of milk and honey, is known for its gvina levana (white cheese), which is used here in this cheesecake recipe. It is unlike anything with which we are familiar here in the US. It’s soft, spreadable, creamy and slightly tangy. If you’ve been to Israel, youâ€™ve probably tried gvina levana at hotel breakfast buffets or in Israeli homes.
Surprisingly enough, gvina levana, or what’s more commonly known here as quark cheese, was brought to Israel by a Christian society, the German Templers, back in 1868, an interesting historical discovery shared by Janna Gur, chief editor of Al HaShulchan, a leading Israeli gastronomic magazine, in her book The Book of New Israeli Food and on her site.
Nowadays when I visit Israel and I walk or drive by Kapulsky, just across the Tel Aviv boardwalk, I am tempted to stop and have a slice of blueberry cheesecake. But, hoping to preserve my nostalgic memories of this slice, I don’t. Instead, I opted to make it myself at home, with quark cheese made by Vermont Creamery, which is usually available at Whole Foods and Wegman’s. Kosher stores also carry the authentic Israeli version. If youâ€™re especially adventurous, you might even try your hand at making quark cheese from scratch as shown here at The Splendid Table.
My homemade version lived up to my memories and would make Kapulsky proud.