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 twenty five 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.
With the holiday of Shavuot approaching, there is no better time to discover a brave new world of kosher cheese. Btay'avon!
Find more about all kinds of cheeses and the difference between them in our Cheese Guide.