Growing up kosher, I never really liked cheese. The only cheese we really had around the house was Miller’s Muenster in the blue package, Miller’s Swiss in the green package and some unmemorable mozzarella. I can’t really blame my parents for the lack of exposure to quality cheese, there simply were not that many kosher cheeses available back then. A lot has changed over the past fifteen years. Now you can pretty much find any cheese variety with reliable kosher certification and even try cheeses you never heard of before and can’t pronounce!
Kosher consumers have also become much more sophisticated when it comes to cheese. We know that Muenster is supposed to have an orange rind and a creamy texture. We order fresh Mozzarella on our pasta and pizza. We are even experimenting with strong flavored cheeses like Bleu, Roquefort, and Feta on our salads. Now that authentic Italian Parmigiano is available on our shores, we can finally say goodbye to powdered parmesan. That is progress!
Kosher cheese is made without animal rennet. Rennet is the enzyme used to curdle hard cheese and traditionally came from the stomach lining of calves, lambs or goats. Kosher cheese has become more widely available because cheese makers are now able to use microbial rennet, which is derived from fungal or bacterial sources. Only cheese products made without animal rennet can receive kosher certification.
Although milk produced in the United States is considered kosher by most rabbinic authorities, only milk and dairy products that are subject to full-time rabbinic supervision can be certified Chalav Yisroel.
Today there are many companies creating world-class kosher cheeses. Kosher mainstays like Miller’s has expanded its traditional offerings with higher quality cheese products. Companies like Tillamook and Cabot which had previously catered to an exclusively non-kosher clientele are recognizing the enormous impact of the kosher market and have kosher cheeses available for purchase in many major supermarkets and grocery stores. There are also a growing number of artisanal cheesemakers who are helping to shape the increasingly discriminating palate of kosher consumers.
5 Spoke Creamery is a small farm that produces hand-crafted artisanal cheeses. Alan Glustoff, the creator of 5 Spoke, believes that good cheese begins with quality milk. He is a food technologist and spent time as a child in Holland falling in love with cheese. When he started keeping kosher he nearly had to give up his passion. He could not find quality kosher cheese from hormone-free, raw milk. So Alan did what any newly kosher, cheese lover would do, he bought a farm and started making his own line of cheese under strict Rabbinic supervision for all kosher people to enjoy. All of Alan's cheeses are hand made from raw milk from grass fed cows without any pesticides or hormones.
Alan’s goal is to create quality cheese akin to those found at a gourmet cheese counter. He started his company about 5 years ago and his cheeses can be found across the country in many Whole Foods stores, regular grocery stores as well as through CSA’s (community supported agriculture) groups.
One of the most interesting cheeses Alan makes is called Tumbleweed, a cross between a Cantal Fermier (Le Salers) and aged Cheddar, which he recommends pairing with the Herzog Alexander Valley Cabernet. Alan also loves to cook and promises to post some of his own original recipes on joyofkosher very soon.
Some other small companies with kosher cheeses include Redwood Hill Farm and Sugar River Cheese Company. Redwood Hill Farm cheeses are made from 100% fresh goat milk with vegetable enzymes, natural sea salt, and imported French cheese cultures, handmade in small batches in the tradition of artisan farmstead cheesemaking. The Sugar River Cheese Company is based in Wisconsin and produces a wide variety of cheddar and jack cheeses from cows which have not been treated with rBGH (synthetic growth hormones).
In addition to domestic cheeses, there is a vast assortment of kosher cheeses now available from Europe and Israel. Some examples you may have seen in your local kosher market include: Ermitage (Switzerland), Cosse Noir de Gabriel (France), Royal George (England), Danablu (Denmark), Solarella (Italian), and Tnuva (Israel).
For those living outside major Jewish population centers, Kosher Italia is an online store offering fine Italian kosher cheeses, as well as other European varieties.
With the holiday of Shavuot approaching, there is no better time to discover a brave new world of kosher cheese. Btay'avon!