Kosher Blog

New kosher grass-fed cheeses, and a pasta in which to appreciate them

This has been a busy summer in the kosher cheese world — or, at least, in my kosher cheese world — as I’ve discovered two new brands of high-end cheese — Mainland and 5 Spoke Creamery.

For no particular reason — the wonderful smells, maybe — I often spend a few minutes dallying through the troves of specialty cheese whenever I get to my local Whole Foods. On one such expedition the most peculiar thing caught my eye — a heksher, and a legitimate one, no less! Of course, on further inspection, the OK heksher was the least extraordinary aspect of the product which caught my eye.

Mainland Kosher Organic Cheddar

This particular mild cheddar was organic, made of milk culled from grass-fed cows, and imported from New Zealand. The grass-fed milk gives Mainland Organic Cheddar a more complex flavor than any other mild cheese I’ve tried — definitely worth including on your next cheese platter. (The steep price — $7.00 for eight ounces — might preclude you from enjoying it on a more frequent basis.)

Over at my local kosher market, new cheeses also popped up, with equally delightful credentials: these were made of hormone-free raw milk by an Amish farmer. (I can practically hear Garrison Keillor saying “Made by Norwegian bachelor farmers … so you know they’re pure, mostly.”) Well, “5 Spoke Creamery” presents us with three Kof-K certified, artisanal varieties — Red Vine Colby, Redmond Cheddar, and Herbal Jack — all with the complexity of flavor and superb texture one should expect of finer raw-milk cheeses.

5 Spoke Creamery Kosher Raw-Milk Cheeses

They’re also on the pricey side, but I couldn’t help myself from devoting some to a decadent macaroni and cheese. After the jump, enjoy an excellent recipe I’ve adapted from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

BAKED MACARONI & CHEESE
The trick to this is the thin sauce made with broth, which keeps it plenty moist once baked. It’s the first baked mac & cheese I’ve made that’s actually delicious reheated. (You must use whole milk, or in a pinch, three cups of skim milk mixed with 1/2 cup of light cream.) For a little excitement, replace the cheddar with an herb-infused jack or blue cheese.

For the topping:
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or 2 cups fresh)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the macaroni:
Salt
1 pound elbow macaroni (or similarly-sized pasta shape)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups thin vegetable broth or pareve consomme
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 lb. Colby cheese, shredded (4 cups)
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups, the sharper the better)
Pepper

  1. To prepare the topping, simply pour the melted butter over the bread crumbs and toss.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni; cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander; set aside.
  3. Wipe the pot dry, add the six tablespoons of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic, mustard, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the vegetable broth and milk; bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.
  5. Off the heat, whisk in the cheeses gradually until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir, breaking up any clumps, until well combined. Pour into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the bread-crumb topping. Bake until golden brown and bubbling around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.
37 comments

I was so thrilled to discover a grassfed kosher cheese (Mainland) at my local healthfood store. It is definitely a decent cheese, however it is not nearly sharp enough for my tastes so it doesn’t really fill my needs. I will stick to Cabot’s kosher sharp cheeses until I can find a grassfed cheddar that’s tastier.

The 5 Spoke I’ve never heard of nor seen, and I’m very excited to try to find it! They sound and look fabulous (OK, I’m a sucker for packaging). Do you have any of the 5-spoke in your fridge? Because I’d be much obliged if you’d let me know the contact info for the company, which I can’t find on google. I’d like to try to get my hands on some. For NYC people, it appears from a quick search that you can buy it at Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s and Westside Markets.

It’s encouraging that there are more high quality cheeses coming onto the market. Trader Joe’s is even carrying a very high quality sheep feta from Israel now, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover my local (rural upstate NY) healthfood store carries Meyenberg’s divine goat’s milk cheddar. I hope this is the beginning of a trend.

http://5spokecreamery.com/

I randomly discovered it at a local store in Manhattan last night and changed what I planned to make for dinner to try some. It had a decent cheddar flavor, but was a little mild for my tastes also. I guess if these are new brands it takes time for longer aged cheddar to be ready. Hopefully this time next year we’ll be discussing the new sharp aged cheddar appearing on the shelves.

BS”D

Unless one keeps cholov yisroel exclusively, and does not hold at all by cholov hacompanies, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. There is a wonderful medium cheddar available cheap in Joseph Farms Sharp Cheddar. Yes, it’s true the mild is obnoxiously mild, but who wants mild cheddar anyway? I know I said I wouldn’t eat the Joseph Farms on principle, since their release of OK labeled nonkosher cheese cause me over $100 in loss, which they never addressed. The company may be a bunch of lowlifes, but the cheese is dirt-cheap. I’ve made up that $100 in savings over other kosher brands. And the thing I like about it is that it exhibits full flavor without bitterness found in a lot of “sharp” cheddars, and rarely are those cheddars labeled “Sharp” actually sharp- they’re usually medium. Some kosherbloggers may use a bit of cheese here and there, and they can afford to try expensive, limited production cheddars cheese, which may or may not up to the quality of Joseph Farms. But for me, cheddar is the workhorse of cheese, and we probably go through a minimum of 5 lbs/week, since it’s our primary protein source. Purchasing expensive cheddar or jack or mozzarella (if not fresh) is something we just would never do, unless the character was such that the cheese in question was, in fact, so distinctive as to be totally different from the norm or what was available. I don’t think any of these, from their descriptions, is so distinctive as to do it.

BS”D

I know the cheeses written about in this article are not cholov yisroel. What I meant is that in the absence of being cholov yisroel, I can’t see what the fuss is about.

Avi,

Thanks for your comments on 5 Spoke Creamery. The Redmond Cheddar in your stores was from the first “run” and aged two months. You will see in a month or so a four month aged Cheddar which is sharper and in November you will see my Tumbleweed, an eight month, cave-aged Le Salers (Cantal) style cheese, which is unlike any kosher cheese seen here or even at small farms in Israel. All are farmstead, handmade cheeses from grass fed raw milk. I will have other, more unusual types availble in a few months, listed on the 5 Spoke website. Let me know what kind of cheeses you would like to see – who knows?

Looks great! Thanks! Where/when can we get the 5Spoke stuff in Chicago?
PS Love the Garrison Keillor shout-out.

Craig,

I’m guessing the fuss is that it’s grass fed and from raw milk.

…and therefore, despite being milder varieties, they actually have nuanced flavor. Those Joseph Farms cheeses are cheap, but most also taste like the plastic they’re wrapped with. (Also, they’re no longer sold anywhere in Boston. On this coast, a more affordable “workhorse cheese” with real flavor is still the Cabot OU Sharp.)

BS”D

Grass-fed and raw milk are nice marketing strategies, but the question is: do they indeed translate into more nuanced flavor? Perhaps a somewhat different flavor, but more nuanced? If the cheese has more nuanced flavor, is it due to the milk or the cheesemaking? There are so many variables, as you know, associated with cheesemaking, that a controlled study would need to be done in order to show even a correlation with the milk source, assuming the raw grass-fed, raw grain-fed, pasteurized grass-fed and pasteurized grain-fed (control) milks were all of similar herds, using the same cheesmaker under the same conditions. Remember, there is French raw-milk cheese that isn’t worth eating, and there’s the glorious stuff we all go ga-ga over. And I’m sure we have all tasted wonderul cheese from pasteurized grain-fed cattle. My experience has been that most claims are marketing-driven, and have little to do with reality. And when it comes to making health claims, there simply have not been any studies indicating validity of claims. CLA, for instance, may be a wonderful antioxidant, but research shows it’s potentially hard on the heart- the point is that there have not been studies at realistic doses to determine any particular degree of life-prolonging quality in either rats or people- good against cancer vs. bad against heart, which one ultimately wins? And the same is true of a wealth of product claims. The only things we know for a fact are that dietary fiber is life-prolonging for us- as is a high phenolic diet low in fat, and that less food above absolute starvation levels, the better. Oh, and also that low to moderate level chronic ingestion of alcohol (or other anti-stress drugs, perhaps), seems to be helpful in prolonging life. Most health claims seem to be based upon emotion rather than empirical evidence. It’s nice to have other cheeses which may present different flavors and textures. But I red-flag 5-spoke due to its having a web page devoted to unsubtantiated health claims. Just calling them “potential benefits” rather than “benefits” would be more legitimate, because most of these are discussing the chemistry of raw milk, which itself has not been proven to be beneficial to human consumption (in fact, the opposite has been proven, but mostly due to pathogens). I’m sure the cheese is wonderful. and exhibits the characteristics of its type, with few if any flaws. But that’s what I expect in a cheese- it’s not something for me to get excited about.

You know what would excite me? If wheels of quality kosher Stilton or aged Gouda or Italian Fontina or Esrom or Reblochon or Marroiles or true Muenster or quality American-made or Israeli-made substitutes, were to mysteriously appear at reasonable prices in new ventilated cheese cases in local kosher stores, sold by people who knew what they had and how to properly care for them.

I once found a decent Fontina at Fairway in NYC. It came from Italy. FWIW, I buy the benefits of grass fed over grain fed but raw milk means little to me.

BS”D

Of the cheeses I mentioned, the ones I never had were Fontina, Muenster and Marroiles. But I’ve had strong cheeses like Muenster and Marroiles before, and they can be great, and both of those are reputed to be among the greatest of the strong cheeses. I’ve had bland and buttery cheeses as well, but here’s a mouthwatering description of Fontina from The Cheese Book, Vivienne Marquis and Patricia Haskell, Simon and Schuster, 1965:

“Most of the cheeses in the bland and buttery group are, as we have said, good though not great. The exception that merits the word “great” is Italy’s Fontina- the best and the original of which is designated by its full name, Fontina d’Aosta. Just as the finest Parmesan cheese comes from a particular district in Italy known as the Zona Classica, the true and original Fontina also comes from a rigidly defined zone in the mountains of northern Italy near the Swiss border- the valley of Aosta…”

“How to describe Fontina d’Aosta? It’s physical attributes are easily catalogued. The chees it most resembles in appearance is a Swiss Gruyere- that is, it has a light-brown crust: it comes in wheels 12-15 inches in diameter and 3-4 inches thick; the cheese itself is a warm ivory in color, the texture fairly firm, and the surface broken here and there by tiny holes. But the flavor and character of this wonderful cheese cannot be so nearly categorized. For Fontina is a cheesemaker’s dream come true. Imagine being able to make a cheese that combines the sweet butternut flavor of a select Emmenthal with the special tang of a Gruyere- but with a hint of Port-Salut about it, making it more worldly than either Emmentha or Gruyere; a cheese that never liquifies, but neither does it remain quite solid- it is creamy, acquiring in the mouth a certai gloss not unlike that of Brie. This is Fontina d’Aosta, a cheese that belongs with the top dozen cheeses that are being made anywhere today.”

Just thinking of eating a cheese like that gives me goosebumps. In the days before I kept kosher (say, up to 24 years ago), I ate many of the great cheeses of the world, but never Fontina. Now that there’s a cheese renaissance in the USA, and more are imported than ever before, the cheeses available to me are largely either inferior or overly expensive. Still, I can remember, and I can dream.

This is the cheese I had. You can order it from Zabar’s.

http://www.zabars.com/fontina-fontal–kosher-/default/511008S.prd

It’s imported by the KosherItalia.com folks… very tasty.

BS”D
Quote The Cheese Book: “It has many imitators, known by names like Fontal, Fontinella, and Fantina, which may be marketed here under the name of Fontina, because that name is not protected by law in the United States as it is in Italy. Some arevery good, others are not.”

“One means of identifying the true Fontina d’Aosta is by the rind. It is a light, brightish brown, like the color of cocoa with a good deal of cream in it. This rind is covered by a thin veneer of wax. Whether it is because air gets in between the waxand the rind in certain places, making for patches of lighter and darker brown, or because the rind itself is unevenly colored, the surface of the rind, marked as it is with faint lines and subtle color contrasts, resembles a terrazzo floor.”

So if it’s Fontal, as they say, it’ not true Fontina d’Aosta, and no matter how good it is, it ain’t the real thing, and how does it compare to the real thing? That’s the problem. It’s like the Parmesan from Italy which World Cheese was/is selling in vacuum packed wedges, which not only is very young and moist, but may not be Parmegiano Reggiano at all, even though it’s labeled as such, and there are reports it is not. Without seeing the rind, it’s impossible to tell.

BS”D

I looked at Zabar’s, and they don’t even claim it’s Fontina. They talk about Fontal, which they claim has been around since 1955, and is a cross between Fontina and Emmenthal in flavor (according to them), whereas Fontina has been made since the 11th century. Like the kosher version of Gruyere compared to the nonkosher, the Fontal doesn’t have holes like the Fontina, indicating a lack of propionic activity, which adds the distinctive character which characterizes all Swiss cheeses of note, as well as the best Swiss imitations from elsewhere, and of course, some other varieties (such as Fontina).

Oh well, I still think it was good.

DeisCane, I’m sure it was good. The problem with kosher cheese, as well as other kosher food, is that we’re often stuck with crap. But even when we don’t get crap and actually get decent, good, or very good cheese (or food in general), it’s often a shadow of the best of its type that’s on the market nonkosher. We’re left to never experience the highs, even when we’re not wallowing in the lows. I’m sure it happens with nonkosher food as well, but at least there’s theoretical access to the best quality. Most of the time, people don’t need the best quality. But sometimes, I wish I had the ability to experience it. Especially since once upon a time, I had that ability, and I did so, but having taken advantage of my Jewish destiny of becoming mitzvah observant and experiencing spiritual highs, I’ve given up the ability to experience physical highs. And it’s not a matter of those physical highs being prohibited by Torah, but rather by supply and demand.

I was in Zabars’s when tje 5 Spoke Creamery cheeses were being sampled about a month ago and have been enjoying them since. Everything was cut with a plastic knife and a copy of the Teudah was there. I’m often disappointed by kosher cheeses, but these were really flavorful and didn’t have that rubbery feel of other kosher cheeses, so maybe it’s the grass, the cows, or the fact that they use raw milk. I don’t really know, but now I don’t have to serve my family the same old pizza for dairy meals. I used the Herbal Jack and Cheddar in a Zucchini Quiche that even my pickiest eats.

Hi,

Our company is preparing to release line of high-quality aged kosher cheeses. I’m reading this blog from time to time, I wonder if you have preferences of kosher cheese types which you think are missing in the market?

shimon

manchego! and anything sheepy.

tell us more about your company.

Port Salut!!!

BS”D

Agreed, DeisCane, with the notion of monastery cheeses such as Port Salut, but the danger here is in releasing it young and too mild, which is often the way we even found nonkosher Port Salut in my preKashrus days. With that in mind, I think it should be patterned after what used to be called Danish Port Salut, Esrom, which is a more powerful character.

Another cheese I’d like to see kosher is Old Amsterdam. I’m fairly sure I’ve seen an organic version so kosher shouldn’t be too difficult.

BS”D

Old Amsterdam is a brand of aged Gouda. Which I mentioned above as “ringing my bell”. I remember as a teen (35 years ago) working in a sporting goods store over the summer, and usually hopping down to the cheese shop the next strip mall down the street. Wonderful times, and one of my favorite lunches was a baguette and a hunk of aged gouda. They say that well aged Edam is even better, but I’ve never run into one.

BS”D

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had quality cheeses which were Cholov Yisroel! Maybe it’s time to start up an artisinal cheesemaking shop…hmmmm do I want to be michig more? Yes!

the english cheeses are chalav yisrael and are quite good. Also many of the artisinal Israeli cheeses are too like the Barkanit line. Go to koshergourmetmart.com and take a look

New Zealand make some of the best cheese in the world. The air is cleaner and the grass is greener.

I would love to do a Kosher baked brie.
Any suggestions?

Be VERY aware that there are legal issues associated with raw milk in both federal law and the law of some states.
See an article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/27/AR2006092700108.html

I recently visited Wisconsin for the first time. While browsing the vast cheese selection, I came across a delicious 6-month sharp cheddar by a brand called Hennings. Their cheeses are KO and they ship. There is also site where you can find other kosher Wisconsin cheeses: http://www.savorwisconsin.com/AllListings/prodbusiness.asp?recordid=846&type=product
Wisconsin cheese — good stuff!
Jill

PS – Yes, I know that KO is not universally accepted.

Just tried Mainland cheddar – called “mild” but compared to US-made fare was actually a little sharp and very, very good (not as good as the Lagvina I had 20 years ago from NZ, but still good)

5 spoke Tumbleweed is the BEST by far domestic kosher cheese I have tasted – wonderfully flavorful, just enough bite/tang to it. 5 Spoke gets 5 stars.

By the way, unlike Craig W, I found Joseph Farms to be little better than Millers so am not disappointed to see them go.

Michael:

Even their Sharp? I found it to be far better than Miller’s. The Joseph farms mild cheddar is insipid, and though we bought a lot of it for the young kids, I had no great love for it. The Monterey and Moz were very neutral cheeses as well, ones not worth fighting for, except for the price, which was low (but increased every time I purchased). But the “Sharp” cheddar was a very reliable and flavorful medium cheddar (not sharp, in other words) but far better in my opinion than the other domestic kosher cheeses of that ilk.

Don’t think I ever tried the sharp cheddar (don’t think I ever saw it) but the one’s I tried were no better than anything else on the mass market. I am not interested in more mediocre brands entering the market. But I’d love to see some more good stuff. A cabot sharp would be great, as would a greater variety of European-style cheeses.

I saw you mentioned Cabot Sharp cheddar, which I just recently found, and thought I’d post its location in order to return the favor this web community has given me by existing. Cabot’s __OU certified__ kosher sharp cheddar is $8 for 10oz at igourmet.com at the link below:

http://www.igourmet.com/shoppe/prodview.aspx?prod=3367

Shipping and handling is usually high over the internet, but they have a promotion right now with which you receive overnight shipping for $10 on all orders over $85 (You could pool the order with friends to make this more reasonable).

parthenonfoods.com has Cappiello mozzarella (also OU certified) but the shipping is an arm and a leg.

Unfortunately, the Mainland Organic Cheddar for sale in the U.S. is now under the hashgacha of Tablet K. Per the U.S. product manager, when the OK certified the retail pack, the cheese was packed in New Zealand from bulk (also OK certified) and shipped to the US, but they had a lot of stock go out of date as they had large minimum production runs and little demand at that stage in the US. They now re-pack the OK certified bulk organic cheddar at Pacific Cheese in California, which is certified organic by a USDA approved authority and certified kosher by Tablet K (Rabbi Saffra). Mainland may in the future request to change to the OK but they deem the cost to be prohibitive at this time.

According to the New Zealand mashgiach (R. Moshe D. Gutnick with Kashrus Australasia), the cheese is still produced in bulk under OK, and he’s trying to get the U.S. product under a better hashgacha. The product is not available for retail sale Down Under with an OK hechsher. I was hoping a friend visiting from Australia could “import” some for me in his suitcase, but no luck. It is available from NZ with an OK in 20kg blocks, so perhaps their target market is restaurants and other institutional users.

If you’d like to communicate to Mainland your disappointment at the loss of the OK hechsher on the retail units, contact:
Mr. Tony Meredith
Business Manager – Retail & Food Service
Fonterra Brands (Americas) Inc.
6363 NW 6th Way, Suite 100
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309
phone: 954 928-2712
tony.meredith@fonterra.com

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