Passover is over, but the memories of great kosher l’Pesach cheese lingers on. During Passover, people enjoy (or loathe) foods that they normally don’t eat—foods eaten partly out of necessity and partly out of curiosity. “What’s new for Pesach this year?” you may have wondered as you eyeballed an odd-looking, furry cheese on the shelf. Did you buy something new and daring this season? Did you love it? Hate it? Did you find a cheese to match at least four cups of wine?
I work in the cheese department of a kosher specialty store (Pomegranate in Brooklyn) and this Passover seemed to stir shoppers into a rare type of frenzy, as if the entire world food supply were coming to a halt on April 18th. Some pre-Pesach days were like Y2K all over again. If a cheese had “Kosher for Passover” on the label, it had about a 95% chance of getting tossed into the shopping cart no matter if it was in the person’s usual comfort zone or not. I love to see customers become suddenly adventuresome, and almost all of these tasty Passover cheeses are available year round, too! With the exception of Cabot’s Sharp Cheddar, released under OU-D/cholov stam only at Passover, most other cheeses are in circulation. It’s just a matter of finding them in stock and giving your grocer a reason to keep ordering them. You.
Some of my personal favorites this year were the French-inspired goat and sheep cheeses by Barkanit, a dairy in northern Israel near the Tabor Mountain. Brothers Avinoam and Michal Brakin trained in France and Spain to learn cheesemaking techniques to apply to Israeli milk. They now have a herd of 450 goats and several hundred sheep, which supply the milk for goat, sheep, and blended cheeses. Barkanit’s Shahat is made of both sheep and goat milk. Modeled after the French Selles-sur-Cher goat cheese, Shahat comes in a flattened disc and is coated in an artful combo of grey ash and downy white mold. Its interior is slightly flaky in the center and creamier toward the rind. More robust than its French doppelganger, Shahat is both tangy and buttery from its fusion of milks. Excellent with white wines, especially Pinot Grigio and lighter Chardonnays. OU, cholov yisroel.
Another cheese that graced my table was Le Maubert (Carré de l’Est), a Camembert-type of cow’s milk cheese in a square shape. Carré de l’Est, which translates as “square of the East” is made in Lorraine in northeastern France near Germany. Plump and earthy, it showcases the richness of the region’s pastures. Once opened, the package releases a mushroomy aroma, thanks to the white mold on the cheese’s surface. And this fragrance is reflected in the cheese’s flavor. Fleshy, tangy, and savory, le Maubert is a far cry from white-washed, bland Bries sold on most shelves. Still, its flavor is not too powerful, making it a good match for medium-bodied reds such as Merlot or Pinot Noir—or even a dab of leftover charoset. Rabbi S.A. Schlesinger of Strasbourg, cholov yisroel.
Pomegranate, a gourmet kosher supermarket in the Midwood area of Brooklyn, New York, mixes and creates its own line of cheeses for sale in the store. Do you like spicy and nutty? Try Romesco Munsterella, one of Pomegranate’s most unique inventions. It is coated in 17 ingredients! The basis of the cheese itself is a blend of Munster and Mozzarella curds, hence the name “munsterella.” The cheese is formed into a log and then coated with the likes of crushed peppers, almonds, filbert nuts, paprika, smoke, sundried tomatoes, oven-roasted and dried jalapeño peppers, and cumin. The result is an exotic cheese with an almost Asian character and irresistible texture. Dazzling with both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Kehilla Kashrus, cholov yisroel.
Natural & Kosher’s Cranberry Pecan Chèvre was a Passover hit as an appetizer cheese with spritzy, sweet Moscato wine. The deeply flavored, creamy goat’s milk base is sturdy enough—yet also mellow enough—to carry a variety of flavors such as fruits, nuts, and herbs. The cranberry cheese is sweet on the inside, thanks to the scattered cranberries throughout, and a little crunchy from bits of pecan. On the outside is a bronze dusting of pulverized pecans and cinnamon. Serve this cheese as a dessert, an appetizer, or in a non-gebrokhts blintz as a “secret” filling ingredient. Brigitte Mizrahi of Natural & Kosher is French, so ooh, la la, she knows and loves her cheese! OK, cholov yisroel.
These cheeses and many more are waiting for their personal invite to your table. During the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos, the kosher cheese shelves are teeming with exotic choices. Then why do the shelves seem emptier the rest of the year? The cheeses are still available. They just may just not be ordered as frequently because the demand is greatest around the holidays. So keep demanding and buying kosher cheeses year round and you will help keep the cheese selection as festive as it is at Passover and Shavuos—year round.