As we enter the season of the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I thought this would be a good time to address kosher cheeses, and why most cheese isn't kosher.
The original reasoning behind the need for kosher certification of cheese was the origins of the rennet (the enzyme used to coagulate the milk). The idea is that even if the milk itself is kosher, it would be possible for the rennet to come from a calf slaughtered in a non-kosher manner, rendering the cheese non-kosher. However, even when the modern technique of using microbial rennet is employed, the rabbi must be present for the cheese production, as well as either supervising or personally adding the rennet himself.
Most kosher cheeses produced within the United States are done as part of a special kosher production run in a normally non-kosher facility. To find real kosher cheese producing farms, you need to turn to Israel.
Located in the Jezreel Valley of Israel, Barkanit Dairy produces a line of artisanal kosher cheeses. Since the owners, Avinoam and Michal Barkan, trained in France and Spain, it's no suprise that their cheeses are varations on classic recipes: Manchego, Valencay, Selles-sur-Cher and Saint Maure. I've chosen two examples of their cheese for this week.
The first one, California, is a bloomy-rind goat's cheese with walnuts added. After last week's exploration of Brin d'Amour, I must have been in the mood for flavored cheese, so I gave it a shot. The flavor is not what I expected. The nuts penetrate very little into the flavor of the cheese, leaving you with a very mild, lightly goaty flavor, a very rich and dense texture, and only a subtle nuttiness.
On the other hand, Shachat is an excellent cheese in its own right, kosher or otherwise. Staring with the basic idea of Selles-sur-Cher, a French ash-coveredgoat's cheese, they mixed in equal quantities of sheep's and goat's milkto produce a unique cheese. The sheep's milk gives a certain rounded sweetness to the cheese and cuts down on the goat's natural bitingacidity. Though, flavor wise, it's not as intense as younger raw milkgoat cheeses, I find its lingering peppery flavor is even more enjoyable
than some pasteurized French goat offerings.
In addition to the cheeses mentioned here, Barkanit also produces a number of others, including: Tavor, a bloomy-rind mix of goat andsheep and Titan, a goat cheese log based on Saint Maure and Gilboa, their take on Manchego. Their cheeses are widely available wherever Kosher cheeses are sold as well as online at Cooking.com and at iGourmet.