|Some Barkanit cheeses are made with goats milk.|
While the holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it also celebrates the first fruits of the year’s crop. Among the many traditions associated with the holiday is the custom of eating milchig, or dairy.
It is explained that the Jews were given the laws of kashrut along with the Torah. Since, at that time, they had no way to prepare kosher meat dishes, they ate dairy instead. A further association with dairy traces back to the notion of Israel as a “land that flows with milk and honey.”
While some might consider eating dairy to be a kind of dietary restraint, given the broad range of gourmet kosher cheeses on the market today, it is difficult to envision modern kosher dairy as anything but indulgent.
What makes a cheese kosher?
“Kosher” is not always kosher for everyone. In the most basic sense, kosher cheese must first and foremost come from a kosher animal and bears a hechsher, or stamp of certification. However, the acceptance of certifications varies from home to home. Before bringing a cheese plate or dairy dish to any Jewish event, it is wise to inquire in advance regarding which hechshers or types of cheeses are welcome. For example, some groups readily serve Tablet K, while others allow only OU Cholov Yisroel.
Kosher goes international
Kosher cheese is now produced all over the world – in Canada, Denmark, England, Wisconsin, New York, France, Italy, Spain, and beyond. A traditional cheese platter often includes delicacies from a variety of countries and featuring different milks and textures.
Below are options for an array of cheeses that reflect the Jewish devotion to artisan dairy across the globe. These cheeses are available in fine specialty stores and online, and, as the concern for food safety and additional certification increases, many kosher cheeses have become staples of mainstream supermarkets, even for non-observant consumers.
5 Spoke Creamery: Based in Westchester County in New York, Alan Glustoff has made a mark nationwide with his kosher, raw cheeses based on the milk of grass-fed cows. All cheeses are aged over the requisite 60 days for raw milk products. While not heavily billed as kosher, many of the 5 Spokes cheeses are available in pre-packs with the Kof-K hechsher intact. Among his offerings are Herbal Jack, Redmond Cheddar, Red Vine Colby, and Tumbleweed. According to Glustoff, 5 Spoke Creamery has “been selling a lot ahead of Shavuot.”
|Courtesy of Mark Rosen, Sugar River Cheese and Diamond Design.”¯|
Sugar River Cheese: Mark Rosen, owner of Sugar River Cheese Co., has made it his mission to produce fine kosher cow’s milk cheeses from Wisconsin milk – flavored with clever blends of herbs and flavorings. His line includes a white Cheddar marbled with bright orange chipotle, Cheddar with roasted garlic and onion, and a Monterey Jack with sun-dried tomato and olive. Although his cheeses contain bold ingredients, the flavors never overpower the rich Midwestern milk. Each is excellent for melting into dishes or snacking with antipasto platters and wine. His cheeses are certified by both OK and the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council.)
Meyenberg: A family-owned company, Meyenberg is based in Turlock, Calif, and focuses on hormone-free goat’s milk cheeses, for those who cannot digest cow’s milk. Two of Meyenberg’s most popular cheeses are the goat Monterey Jack and aged Cheddar. Meyenberg’s cheeses and butter are certified kosher by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of San Francisco and bear the ORC emblem.
Celebrity International: Although a relative newcomer to the goat cheese business, Celebrity International has nonetheless created a sensation with its innovative flavors. Located in Ontario, Celebrity produces clean-tasting fresh goat’s milk logs accented with sea salt. The most famous of the line are the cranberry cinnamon goat – delicious for breakfast, brunch, snacks, or signature salads. Celebrity also makes a rum raisin goat as well as a honey-tinged log. However, the cheesemakers are delving into the savory sector and have recently released a BruschÃ¨vre log coated in tomatoes and herbs. Ready to spread on a hot bruschetta! COR kosher.
Kirkeby Cheese Company: The Kirkeby Cheese Company of Denmark serves up buttery Havarti and Edam slices, but also makes a fine blue cheese. This blue is similar to the creamy French Bleu d’Auvergne and is excellent spread on bread, crumbled on salad, or served with pears and walnuts. Kirkeby cheeses are made on the exotic island of Funen, which boasts fantastic sea views and grazing pastures. All Kirkeby cheeses are certified by the Kosher Federation of Bet Din of London and are Cholov Yisroel.
Royal George: These cheeses are English in origin, style, and flavor. The cheeses bear the hallmark of English tradition – tangy Cheddar, creamy Double Gloucester, and bright Red Leicester. Royal George is named after the founder of the English dairy, George Kenyon. In 1957, the original “Royal George” began to make traditional English cheeses in the ancient market town of Garstang. His sons carried on the English cheese tradition and are now the leading producers of kosher cheese in the United Kingdom. The Royal George cheeses are the first English cheeses ever to be certified kosher by the OU. They are also Cholov Yisroel. Royal George cheeses pair well with red or white wines and they also melt well for cooking.
|Courtesy of Barkanit, Israel.|
Barkanit: Israel, the original land of milk and honey, carries a strong line of kosher cheeses. Tnuva and Gad Dairies are major producers of traditional Mediterranean-style cheeses, including feta, halloumi, and labane. However, other Israelis have branched out into diverse territories. Avinoam and Michal Barkan, the cheesemakers at Barkanit dairy, attended 15 cheese training periods in France and Spain. They brought back their European cheesemaking knowledge to their moshav in Israel, where they now host a herd of 450 goats and several hundred sheep. On this farm, they blend their European methods with genuine Israeli terroir and have produced numerous French-style ash-ripened cheeses, as well as a Spanish-style Manchego sheep cheese. Barkanit is certified by the Rabbinate of the Bilboa and the OU, and all cheeses are Cholov Yisroel.
One of the great attractions of cheese is that it requires no cooking and no grandiose kosher kitchen. Pick up a few pieces of premium kosher cheese, a nice bottle of kosher wine, some choice accompaniments, untainted cutlery and platters, and you are ready for a Shavuot dinner. Below are a few classic pairings:
“¢ Cheddar and English-style cheeses: apples, pears, preserves, nuts, Merlot, Chardonnay
“¢ Blue cheeses: honey, Port wine, walnuts, pecans
“¢ Fresh goat cheeses: Dry white wine, off-dry sparkling wine, tomatoes, celery
“¢ Ripened goat cheeses: Pinot Noir, walnuts, dates, fresh or dried figs
“¢ Aged sheep cheese: Membrillo quince paste, preserves, chutneys, Marcona almonds, honey, red Spanish wines
“¢ Savory-flavored cheeses: Shiraz, olives, gherkin, and other cured vegetables
This Shavuot, don’t forget the traditional cheesecake and the fruity, cheesy, creamy blintz casseroles, but keep in mind that there are other interesting ways to snack on dairy into the wee hours of the morn. A trip to a well-equipped grocery will impress guests and also promote kosher artisan cheesemakers from around the world – some of whom may even be your neighbors.