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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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Getting Cheesy

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Rabbi Saul Emanuel

As with any other product that is produced, it is imperative that every single ingredient going into the production of cheese is checked for its kosher authenticity. This is true for the equipment on which the cheese is produced as well. Unfortunately, in Canada, we don’t yet have many producers of kosher cheese, and most of the cheeses are imported.

One of the key ingredients in the production of cheese is milk. Since milk is a food item which does not stay fresh for very long, before the advent of pasteurization, milk would be fermented by letting it curdle into cheese. Traditionally, this was done using bacteria to sour the milk. Rennet, a complex of enzymes which is produced in the stomach of a calf, was added to the milk to cause the casein protein to curdle. The curd was then pressed into cheese and any remaining liquid which did not curdle, was separated as whey. Since kosher cheeses require the use of only kosher rennet, a production of such a kosher rennet was always difficult and mostly, in short supply.

With the advent of modern technology over the years, the traditional calf rennet, which used to be used has now been replaced by microbial rennet in most cases. Before microbial rennet became the preferred choice in the production of cheese, when calf rennet was still being used, our sages instituted a ruling that kosher cheese must be gevinat Yisrael. This means that not only must it contain only kosher ingredients, it must be produced by a religious Jew. Thus, for cheese to be kosher, the rennet must be added by a religious Jew. This ruling does not apply to soft cheeses, only to hard cheeses that are produced using rennet. Soft cheeses still require regular kosher supervision, and the cultures, flavours, emulsifiers and stabilizers used in its production must be investigated. We should remember that certain cheeses require us to wait six hours before meat is consumed. These are cheeses which are matured over a long period of time, i.e., six months. Some halachic authorities are of the opinion that even cheeses that are aged for three months would fit into this category. An exception to this rule are cheeses such as feta or Greek rennet-set cheese, which are cured in brine from two to six months and do not require one to wait six hours. Other cheeses are set quickly and for these, one is only required to wait a short period of time before eating meat afterwards.

Over the period of Shavuot, it is traditional to eat dairy foods, such as blintzes, cheesecake and other dairy delicacies. Numerous reasons for this custom have been cited, among them the following:

• The Hebrew word for milk, chalav, has the numerical value (Gematriah) of 40, to remind us of the 40 days and nights during which Moses remained on Har Sinai.

• Another name for Har Sinai is gavnunim, which means white, like cheese.

• On Shavuot, when the Torah was given, the Jews received the commandment to only eat meat which was slaughtered ritually. Since the Torah was given on Shabbat when slaughtering is forbidden, and the meat they had was not slaughtered according to halachah, they were only able to eat dairy.

The following is a list of some of the more common cheeses, and the length of time it takes for them to age.

• Brie: three to six weeks

• Camembert (French-made): three to five weeks

• Cheddar: two months to two years or longer

• Colby: One to three months

• Edam: three months

• Emental (Swiss Cheese-Switzerland): six to 14 months

• Feta (from cow milk): brined two to three months

• Feta (from goat or sheep milk): brined three to six months

• Gouda: three months

• Monterey: two months

• Mozzarella: 30 days

• Muenster: five to seven weeks

• Parmesan: 10-24 months or more

• Swiss Cheese/American-Made: three to four months

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