Cream Cheese Emergency

In the U.S., cream cheese seems to hold a place in Kiddush and celebration tradition. The following story bears witness to the Jewish love of what is otherwise a rather uneventful cheese:

Milchigs or fleishigs at a bris? All morning long, I was hoping for a milchig (dairy) spread. The bris was at 2:30 at a shul in NJ on a weekday—too late for fleishigs (meat).

Apparently I wasn’t the only one wondering the same thing! brishandsWhen I got there, the long table was set up with cling wrapped trays and a couple of empty heating stands. The guests were milling around as the rabbi greeted people and the mohel (also a surgeon by profession) instructed the grandfather/sandek on how to hold the baby’s legs. Other guests were either chatting or eyeing the food table—or both.

“Is it milchig or fleishig?” somebody asked. There were bagels. There was a ton of fish of various sorts, including lox, but we saw no cream cheese or anything that looked like dairy under all the plastic.

“It’s milchig!” a lady announced. “Look. That’s herring. Sour cream. That’s dairy.” There was a little bowl of something white and lumpy that I would not have noticed otherwise.

IMG_1899After the bris and baby naming portions were over—and the mohel had checked on a man who had fainted during the ceremony—the caterer helpers brought out trays of hot noodle kugel and macaroni and cheese. Dairy! Yay! But where was the cream cheese to go with the lox and bagels? The guests started to murmur loudly: “What? No cream cheese?” and “Do you see any cream cheese?” and “They didn’t put out cream cheese?” and “They could have at least had cream cheese!”

The new mother seemed upset: “We’re paying a lot for this event!” Apparently the caterer had left off the cream cheese. A major faux pas!

IMG_1902I was a little disappointed, but I eat cream cheese every day anyhow. I was very happy to have had such a delicious mac and cheese. It was decadent, with big curves of penne rigate noodles covered in cheddar and a light coating of golden bread crumbs. After being plated, each buttery, cheesy scoop oozed a frame of gold.

I, for one, was quite content with the over-the-top milchig dish that we did have. But where was the cream cheese?!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Matzo Cheese Pizza at the Manischewitz Experience 2015

IMG_1643Manischewitz put on a 3-day free pop-up at Chelsea Market in NYC. The event featured recipe tastings, an interactive s’mores-making station, a chocolate fountain for macaroon dipping, a giant gumball machine that dispensed macaroons, and chef demos.

The only cheese on the premise was at the matzo pizza station.

At “Manni’s Pizzeria” (get it?), Manischewitz’s Thin Salted matzos served as the base for two types of pizza: IMG_1649Manni’s Margherita Matzo Pizza and Matzo Pizza with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella.

IMG_1651As much as I begged and pleaded, I was only able to taste the pesto/tomatoes/fresh mozzarella pizza “Only one per person!” the server said. The pizza I tried was very good. It was made with shredded mozzarella. I liked the thin matzos because they were reminiscent of a thin crust pizza with softness on top from the sauce, and a bit of crunch underneath. The sauce, pesto, and hot melted cheese transformed a crisp, flaky cracker into a softer, more dough-like crust.

Of course I was curious about whose cheeses these were as I know a lot of people in kosher cheese. I asked the guy making the pizzas about the cheese, but he didn’t know as he was just there to cook.

NKmozzgroupBy chance, Chef Richard of Main Event Caterers of Englewood, NJ, had just come out of the curtained kitchen for a moment. I asked him about the cheeses and he invited me into the kitchen. The shredded low-moisture mozzarella was a blend of Natural & Kosher’s and Haolam’s, both cholov yisroel.

Next he showed me a box full of fresh mozzarella balls and I immediately recognized the Natural & Kosher label. This company puts out a line of excellent cheeses of all sorts.

I am sorry to have missed the Matzo Pizza Margherita, but I can make my own. Margherita pizza typically is made of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. The red, green, and white of the ingredients represent the colors of the Italian flag. IMG_1662According to popular tradition, in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy, Queen Margherita made a visit to Naples. In her honor and in the spirit of new-found Italian patriotism, a pizza maker and his wife created a pizza to mirror the Italian flag, and named it Pizza Margherita.

In this picture, there is a bucket of N&K’s fresh mozzarella sliced straight from the ovoline balls, ready to go on the matzo for the Pizza Margherita.

Get the matzo. Get the cheese and let Pesach begin!

Elizabeth Bland, Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Smoked Scamorza by Cappiello

scamorzasmokedIf you like mozzarella, you’ll love scamorza! A cheese originally from Southern Italy, Scamorza is a proud member of the “pasta filata” pulled curd family. This cheese making process involves heating and stretching curds, almost as one would taffy. It adds more power to a pizza, lasagna, or sandwiches than does a mozzarella. Scamorza comes plain or smoked. This scamorza  (smoked) from Cappiello is even more flavorful since it is roasted over hickory.

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Auricchio Provolone in an Italian deli in Hoboken, NJ. The ones pictured are not kosher, but a kosher Auricchio is listed here: http://allfreshkosher.com/auricchio/

The Cappiello family immigrated from Sorrento, Italy to Schenectady, New York in the 1920s. Once settled in the States, they carried on the tradition of cheesemaking. In Italian shops, one often finds dryer cheeses and cured meats hanging from the ceiling over the  counter.

Scamorza is one such cheese. Its shape, which resembles a pear or beggar’s purse, comes from such a hanging. In fact, the cheese is “strangled” (strangolare il formaggio – to strangle the cheese); it first is shaped into a ball, and then pinched at the top and tied with a rope to hang up to dry, and in this case, smoked. Such torture for a cheese! stretching, strangling, hanging, and then set over burning embers!

IMG_1444The result is a gorgeous dairy delicacy with a rich tradition in Italian artistry. Scamorza works as a savory table cheese and, when melted, adds excellent creamy texture to dishes. The smoke gives a “meaty” flavor, but with no meat, of course.

Cappiello products are OU-D, cholov stam. http://www.cappiellofoods.com

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Point Reyes Toma

“They have real cows!” a guy in L.A. told me about the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. in Marin County. He had just been on a trip up the coast and, for some reason, was surprised to find real California cows making real California milk on a real California farm. He was really excited he saw a REAL cow!

I would be, too, especially one that made this luscious, buttery cheese. Toma is a gentle cow’s milk cheese that comes in a large toma-style wheel (toma means “cheese that the farmer made himself” in Italian) with a natural rind. It has a few scattered, irregular holes that taste like pockets of butterfat. The cheese is semi-soft and breaks off or slices with ease. Its aroma of pure butter matches its color and flavor, and true to the lush grasses, its tangy finish tastes of fresh fields. The butter seems to stretch for miles.

A picture from my phone. This cheese is a gorgeous shade of butter yellow, sunny and beta carotene-rich from lush grazing grasses.

A picture from my phone. This cheese is a gorgeous shade of butter yellow, sunny and beta carotene-rich from lush grazing grasses.

Toma is a “melts in your mouth” cheese; it hardly requires chewing. It has a bit of saltiness that would complement sweet fresh fruit. The website (www.pointreyescheese.com)  suggests using it in omelets, mac-n-cheese, casseroles, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

All of Point Reyes cheeses are “certified kosher,” according to the website. I contacted the farm about the exact hechsher and packaging of Toma, but I have yet to receive a response. It is likely under the KORC and cholov stam, as is the much celebrated Point Reyes Original Blue. As far as I know, Toma is not sold pre-packaged, so the 10 lb. wheel would need to be purchased and handled in its entirety to keep the kashrus intact.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Good Day Sunshine! Tomato Olive Cheese Brings the Warmth

NKtomolive92Tomato Olive Cheese invites the Mediterranean sun into your kitchen. Based on a creamy white Prairie Jack, it is dotted with bits of sun-dried tomatoes, black and green olives, oregano, basil, and garlic. While Tomato Olive Cheese contains several ingredients typical of a basic Italian herb cheese, it is far more. The spices do not overpower, but instead add a subtle backdrop to the roasted sweet the tomatoes and zingy olives. The herb mix is well-balanced, allowing the fruits to be the stars of the cheese.

Viva con passione! Tomato Olive Cheese is eager to entertain as a cheeseboard favorite with bites of grape tomatoes, olives, nuts, and crostini. It also loves to melt over your favorite Italian pasta dishes and pizza. Anywhere it goes, it adds rays of sunshine and intrigue.

NKtomolivepackSincerely, Brigitte™ is one of AI Foods’ kosher labels. This particular line reflects AI’s cheese maven Brigitte Mizrahi’s passion for creativity-inspired cheeses that deliver “an explosion of flavor in every bite of cheese.” With conversation-starters such as Jalapeño & Cilantro Cheese, Chipotle Cheese, Roasted Garlic & Chives Cheese, and Blue Marble, Brigitte hopes to bring cheese lovers together into a community of cheese expression.

Sincerely, Brigitte™ cheeses bear the Wisconsin Cheese label and the kosher certification symbol OK-D. These cheeses are cholov stam and vegetarian. They are available in select supermarkets and specialty stores.

Elizabeth Bland
http://www.cheesemistress.com

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Cheesy Pão for Pesach

pandequeijoPão de Queijo (“bread of cheese” in Portuguese) is a gluten-free cheese bread, originally from Brazil. It is usually served in snack-sized bread balls, and is eaten at breakfast with coffee or as a side snack. The bread itself is based on cassava flour instead of wheat flour.

Because it contains no wheat, Pão de Queijo is ideal for those on a gluten-free diet or who are observing Passover.cassava

Cassava, also known as “yuca” in Spanish (not to be confused with the yucca plant), is a root of a plant. When cassava is dried and ground up into a powder or pearls, it is called tapioca. A chewy cassava-based bread is a nice change of pace during Passover when bread-stuffs can be heavy and crumbly.

CaciqueQB50

Brazilian cheese balls may contain a number of cheeses. One traditional Hispanic cheese that is sometimes available kosher is Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco. This fresh, bright white cow’s milk cheese works as a mild table cheese for its milky flavor, but it is also used “para freir” (for frying). It melts, yet maintains its shape, meaning it doesn’t run or separate under heat. Cacique’s Queso Blanco is certified kosher dairy by Rabbi Yisroel Kelemer of Three Line K Kosher in Beverly Hils, CA.

Some recipes for Pão de Queijo call for feta, Monterey Jack, mozzarella or parmesan, all readily available in a kosher format.

cheesenrolls2When I worked at Pomegranate kosher specialty supermarket in Brooklyn (Midwood) a few years ago, we sold kosher for Passover Cheese N’ Rolls, made by Kessem. They were cholov yisroel with certification under Arugas Habasham. Cheese N’ Rolls are sold online at www.allfreshkosher.com. I hope to see them in the Passover section in stores as well.

Stacy Viera, a food photographer, offers a Passover cheese bread recipe which uses either mozzarella or parmesan: http://jewishfoodexperience.com/recipes/pao-de-queijo/

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress

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Kosher Horseradish Cheddar by The Good Life Cheese

Strange foods, pungent foods, spicy foods, and even disturbingly stinky foods have a mysterious appeal. Is it nostalgia? Is it the dare factor? Is it “seasoned” taste buds on a quest for the next thrill? The answer could lie in that hazy moment suspended between repugnance and pleasure when a palate wonders: “Is this good or bad?” Taste it again and again to decide – until the sheer ambiguity becomes delightful.

IMG_0439Eating horseradish is one such experience; it is a love-it-or-hate-it foodstuff that is ingrained in Jewish culture. It has a place on the seder plate as the bitter herb maror; it is an accompaniment to gefilte fish; and it now shows up in kosher cheese!

When I worked at Pomegranate (kosher specialty supermarket) in Brooklyn, I got to experience horseradish grating first hand. “No, you can’t go in the kitchen!” a co-worker warned. “Nobody is allowed in the kitchen for three hours.” I peaked in the door window and a big burly Israeli cook – tough enough to have served in the IDF – was no match for the pungent smell and burning sting of horseradish. He was wearing a gas mask, leaning over an industrial mixer, scraping the precious horseradish into the bowl.

horseradishyiddish

Yiddish proverb from http://www.yiddishwit.com: “Az der vorem zitst in khreyn, meynt er az es iz keyn zisers nito.” When a worm sits in horseradish, it thinks there’s nothing sweeter.

The Good Life Cheese’s Horseradish Cheddar doesn’t require a gas mask, but it is decidedly hot—hotter than I perceive jarred horseradish, which usually strikes me as mildly hot and pungent. The Good Life Cheese starts off with a mellow base cheese flavor and a hint of pungency. Next comes an intense tingling and spice-driven heat that borders on a capsaicin experience. At the very end, the sharpness of the Cheddar comes out.

This cheese is excellent alone with crackers, on a tomato sandwich, or melted on whole grain bread for cheese toast. Perhaps kosher horseradish cheese pique interest in a milchig Pesach seder. Who wouldn’t enjoy a Hillel matzoh cheese sandwich with trimmings of Romaine lettuce? Warning: Keep hands away from eyes after eating this cheese. I learned from a mishap that Horseradish Cheddar can cause bitter tears!

GLCkosherThe Good Life Cheese’s Horseradish Cheddar is one of a large selection of kosher cheese varieties. Foodworks Cheese is out of Monsey, NY. It is certified by Rabbi Dovid Katz of Avenue L in Brooklyn, NY, and it is Kosher for Passover year round.

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