Cheese, Glorious (Kosher) Cheese

By Adeena Sussman

Published December 05, 2007, issue of December 07, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Hanukkah is a holiday of legends, and many of its modern traditions stem from ancient lore. One lesser-known tale accounts for the custom of serving cheese and dairy products during the Festival of Lights.

Kosher cheese has come a long way, just in time for a lesser-known Hannukah tradition
Kosher cheese has come a long way, just in time for a lesser-known Hannukah tradition

As the story goes, when the Syrian warrior Holofernes arrived in the town of Bethulia en route to conquering the land of Judea, a beautiful young widow named Judith seduced him and fed him copious amounts of wine and cheese. After Holofernes became drunk, Judith seized his sword and beheaded him, thus saving her people from peril (the event was depicted in a painting by Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi).

Latkes and jelly doughnuts are staples at most Hanukkah celebrations, but the story of Judith’s bravery is a great reason to add an elegant kosher cheese plate to the mix. In recent years, kosher cheeses have come a long way from the large blocks of bland, one-dimensional domestic cheddar, muenster and Swiss, which were, at one time, the kosher consumer’s only options. Now, an increasing number of cheeses are imported from Europe and Israel, or made locally in small batches by using raw milk and artisan or organic cheese-making techniques. While some are made with kosher animal rennet (the lining of a cow’s stomach, which helps the cheese coagulate), more cheese makers — including Redwood Hill Farms in Sebastopol, Calif., and Five Spoke Creamery in Westchester County, N.Y. — are using vegetable enzymes. “The quality of the milk and the complexity of the enzymes are two factors contributing to better quality in some kosher cheeses,” Alan Glusgoff of Five Spoke said. Here are a few things to remember when putting together a cheese plate:

Similar to wines, cheeses can be served beginning with the lighter choices, then moving on to stronger (read: stinkier) options.

Serve cheeses in an assortment of colors, textures, shapes and heights to lend visual appeal to your plate.

Add variety with cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, and use cheeses from different parts of the world.

Serve several different accompaniments with your cheeses, such as crackers and fresh baguette slices, lightly toasted nuts, tart preserves, dried fruits and chutneys. Arrange accompaniments next to their appropriate cheeses for ease of pairing.

Remove a wedge or slice from each of the plated cheeses to encourage guests to help themselves.

Remove cheeses from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving (two hours or more for Brie, Camembert and other soft-rind cheeses); cheese is best served at room temperature.

The following is a list of kosher cheeses recommended for assembling an appetizing cheese plate. There really are no wrong combinations — just go with what you like, and have fun. It’s Hanukkah, after all.


Cow’s Milk

Fantacini Parmigiano
Reggiano
Considered by many to be the original artisan cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is savory and perfectly salty, with the signature crystalline crunch that comes from its unique aging process. Serve with a drizzle of good-quality balsamic vinegar.

Five Spoke Creamery
Red Vine Colby
This raw cow’s milk vegetable-rennet cheese is one of four cheeses manufactured by a small producer based in Westchester County using milk from a Pennsylvania farm. Some of the producer’s nonkosher offerings are sold to such top New York City restaurants as Per Se and Chanterelle. Serve with toasted walnuts or pecans.

Royal George Double Gloucester (England)
Available in the United States since 2005, this authentic English cheese is a mildly tangy, cheddarlike delicacy made from the milk of grass-fed cows. Serve with crisp apple or pear slices.


Sheep’s Milk

Maese Miguel Manchego
Available kosher for the first time, this sheep’s milk cheese is one of Spain’s most prestigious offerings. Nutty, salty and slightly tangy, it’s great served with a classic Spanish membrillo (quince paste, available in better cheese departments).

Cosse Noir de Gabriel Coulet Roquefort (France)
Cave-aged in France’s Rouergue district, this cheese is not for the faint of heart. It’s smooth, salty, pungent and assertive. Spread on a baguette with a chunk of fresh honeycomb, a drizzle of Tupelo honey or dried cherries.


Goat’s Milk

Barkanit Kadurim
These party-ready cheese balls are made by the Barkan family in northern Israel and are one of the few artisan Israeli cheeses available stateside. Rolled in a variety of savory herbs such as paprika, black pepper, garlic and parsley, they’re tangy and creamy, begging to be spread on a crisp cracker.

Meyenberg Smoked Goat’s Milk Jack
Meyenberg is far too large a company to be considered an artisan cheese maker, but this cheese is worth a taste. Complex, creamy, smoky and mild, it’s a surprise for sheep’s cheese.

Redwood Hill Farm Camelia (California)
This is an unctuous, Camembert-style cheese that is mild and buttery like the best Camemberts but easier to digest. It’s made using vegetable rennet, sea salt and small-batch artisan techniques.

While availability is sometimes spotty, many of these cheeses can be found at Fairway or Zabar’s markets in New York City, at kosher markets or online at www.igourmet.com.

Adeena Sussman is a food writer, recipe developer and cooking instructor based in New York City.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.