Behold the Power of (Kosher) Cheese

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True cheese lovers know the unbridled joy that a melty triple cream or aged Roquefort can evoke. They understand what it feels like to bite into a solid hunk of cheddar and sigh with complete satisfaction. Until recently, however, kosher cheese had never caused anyone to sigh. Some brands were…fine…alright…better than others – but nothing even began to reach the lofty state of cheese bliss known to the larger cheese-eating world.

Today, The Associate Press published an article by Julie Wiener that profiles 5 Spoke Creamery cheese company and notes an emerging trend towards – gasp! – delicious and sustainable kosher cheese. The Jew & The Carrot has sung 5 Spoke’s praises before for setting a new standard in the field. Here’s hoping other companies follow suit and that, before long, kosher-keepers will understand the true power of cheese.

Growth of Artisanal Cheeses Creates Niche for Kosher Cheesemakers
By: Julie Wiener
Associated Press – March 3, 2008

In his 15 years of strictly observing Jewish dietary laws, Alan Glustoff had one consistent gripe – the cheese.

High-quality kosher varieties of virtually every other foodstuff have become plentiful in recent years, but rare was the kosher cheese that Glustoff felt was on par with its non-kosher cousins.

So this 53-year-old food industry veteran – he helped develop Jell-O Pudding Pops – did something about it. In 2005, he started 5 Spoke Creamery, a dairy with 32 grass-fed cows in Port Chester, N.Y.

Since launching last summer, the six varieties of kosher, raw milk cheese he makes there have attracted a dedicated following. That much of the attention is from people who don’t care about eating kosher tells Glustoff he accomplished his goal.

“It was high time we had kosher cheeses that were as good as non-kosher cheeses,” says Glustoff, whose buyers include upscale restaurants such as Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern and Chanterelle.

“I wish more people in the kosher community knew about it,” says Glustoff, noting that kosher observing Jews haven’t paid much attention to raw milk, small-batch cheeses because “they haven’t had cheeses like this before.”

Turns out Glustoff’s timing was right. Kosher cheeses have seen dramatic growth during the past five years, says Rabbi Andrew Gordimer, who oversees dairy for the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest kosher certifying agency.

Previously, consumers could pick from just a handful of mass-produced kosher cheeses. Today, they can have grass-fed Lancashires, herb-infused cheddars, aged parmesans, goat and blue cheeses, even an Indian-style paneer.

Much of the growth comes from European imports. Israel also is exporting growing amounts of kosher cheese, particularly sheep’s milk and goat’s milk varieties.

So what makes a cheese kosher? In short: rabbis and rennet.

Because Jewish law forbids the mixing of meat and dairy, kosher cheese producers generally must have a rabbi on the premises at all times to ensure that no non-kosher ingredients or utensils have been used.

Rennet, the enzyme used in cheese production, is more complicated. Because rennet traditionally is derived from cow stomach, there are numerous – and often debated – rules governing its use.

Many kosher cheese producers instead use microbial or other vegetarian rennets. This has the added benefit of making the cheese more appealing to vegetarians, though few kosher cheeses are marketed this way.

The growth in kosher cheeses marks an overall change in the sophistication of kosher consumers.

“Ten years ago, the kosher consumer was not as educated, didn’t demand better items,” says Jeff Nathan, a kosher chef who hosts public television’s “New Jewish Cuisine.”

“Now they are more into food: they read, they watch television and they are saying there’s more than just this basic stuff,” Nathan says.

Brent Delman, a New York distributor of kosher cheeses to upscale East Coast markets, says the kosher cheese growth stems in part from the “intense competition in the cheese industry.”

“Everybody’s trying to carve out more of a niche,” he explains.

Mark Rosen, for example. When the owner of Sugar River Cheese Co. in Deerfield, Ill., started making his cheeses in 2002 he says he saw kosher as another way to set his cheeses apart.

In addition to being kosher, Rosen’s cheeses also are made from hormone-free milk and come in unusual flavors, such as cheddar with roasted garlic and green onion, and Monterey Jack with olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

“I try to make cheese for everybody,” he says. “I certainly sell in kosher markets, but I also sell to a whole variety of stores that don’t generally sell kosher cheese.”

But kosher consumers are paying a premium. Delman estimates that, while they vary considerably, kosher cheeses run as much as 25 percent more than non-kosher. And finding them can still be a challenge.

“With the Internet, you can get anything anywhere,” he says. “But if you’re going to your local kosher or specialty market you’ll be fairly limited.”

Check out The Jew & The Carrot’s Kosher, Sustainable Cheese List Here.

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2 Responses to “Behold the Power of (Kosher) Cheese”

  1. Batya Says:

    Considering that most kosher eaters are FFB, they really don’t know they’re eating inferior cheese. I became BT over 40 years ago, and those were the days of horrid cheese for all. In Israel, there are all sorts of good goats cheese.

  2. Julie Sandler Says:

    Dear Leah Konig,

    You wrote: “Many kosher cheese producers instead use microbial or other vegetarian rennets. This has the added benefit of making the cheese more appealing to vegetarians, though few kosher cheeses are marketed this way.”

    Would you please tell me which kosher cheeses also use only vegetarian rennets? I thought this was true of all the cheesemakers on your “Kosher Sustainable Cheese List” but my daughter says no.

    thank you so much,
    Julie Sandler

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