I am of the firm opinion that it is always a good time for cheese. I recently learned that the Shavuot holiday has a strong dairy component. I had never known this before, but I was very happy to discover this a day or two after I had completed a highly successful experiment in cheese making. I’ve defined the experiment’s success as the fact that I am still enjoying the cheese.
I attended a cheese making class a couple of weeks ago. I was very surprised to find out how easy it can be–at least for some (soft) cheeses. I decided to attempt to replicate the success of the class in a different environment–my own kitchen. Luckily, I had help from a knowledgeable wife and eager son–age 4. My son was probably as eager to try the cheese making experiment as I was. I had to explain to him that this was an experiment, and it may or may not work. If it worked, we had delicious cheese. If it did not work, we had a bunch of ruined milk.
I know what you are thinking…. the Hanukkah story had a femme fatale?? When you think of Hanukkah you probably think of how the Maccabees defeated the Syrian-Greeks in a revolt that recaptured the Holy Temple. And once the Maccabees did, the first order of business was to light the menorah in the Temple, but very little oil was found and would only last one day. The miracle of Hanukkah was that the little vile of oil that was supposed to last for one day lasted 8 days. It is for this reason that we eat foods fried in oil (typically olive oil because it’s a characteristic of the Land of Israel). What you may not know is that there is an underlying story of events that led to the victory of the Maccabees and it all started in the town of Bethulia, in the Judean Desert with a woman named Judith.
Judith was a pious woman who had a plan to save the Jews by pretending to surrender to an Assyrian general, Holofernes. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was seized and the Jews could not practice their religion. Judith used her beauty and charm to ingratiate herself onto Holofernes. She brought him her homemade cheese and wine (nothing like food to a man’s stomach) and went back to his tent, for “something something”…. Or so he thought.
This story first appeared on J. Weekly.
When Bohemian Creamery’s Boho Belle cheese was served along with fig sesame jam, arugula and balsamic vinegar to President Barack Obama at a brunch in Atherton, it was then, and only then, that Lisa Gottreich began to think that maybe she would succeed as a cheesemaker.
“I started to cry when I heard,” she said about the April fundraiser, where a San Francisco caterer had included her cheese on the event menu. “To make an agricultural, artisan food in California, you have to produce a product that you can’t afford to buy, and sell it to a place you could never afford to eat, and then maybe you’ll make it.”
Gottreich, 51, has been a cheesemaker for most of her life, but it turned from hobby to profession just a few years ago. At the time, she was working as an operations analyst, her 17-year marriage was falling apart, and she wanted to change the course of her life. “I decided I would do something that brought me joy,” she said. (She also quips that she traded in her ex-husband for goats.)
Gottreich, the product of a Swedish-Jewish home in West Marin, Calif. grew up around animals and enjoyed physical labor. “I like sweating. What’s wrong with hard work?” she asked. “If I had been a Jew in Egypt, I probably would have petitioned to stay a slave.”
She spent some time in Israel during high school, talking her way onto a kibbutz (she was younger than the minimum age of 16 for volunteers). She loved the experience and the feeling that “Israel still had a lot of socialist influence at that time.”
Cheese is the food of choice during Shavuot making it one of our favorite holidays. But, for those who keep strictly kosher, the cheese pickings have always been slim — mostly mild cheddars, mediocre mozzarellas and sometimes something that resembles parmesan. But, Brent Delman, aka The Cheese Guy is trying to change that.
A food importer and founder Old World Marketplace, Delman longed for quality cheese after finding religion later in life. His solution? Make his own. He is now one of only a handful of artisan kosher cheese producers in the country.
We caught up with him in Yonkers to chat cheese.
When Shauvot rolls around each year, my family usually serves up traditional sweets: Rich cheesecakes, rugelach and blintzes dominate the table. Now I love cheesecake as much as the next (former) New Yorker, but I tend to do things a little differently. I like to look at the holiday as an excuse to eat boatloads of cheese: feta, mozzarella, cheddar, you name it! Mmm cheese.
By why do we eat dairy at all on Shavuot? There are almost as many reasons for ditching meat on this holiday as there are delicious kinds of queso. Shavuot is the celebration of the Israelites receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Suddenly they had to keep kosher and they did not have the necessary implements to slaughter and prepare kosher meat. Dairy it was! Another explanation is that the Israelites received the Torah right after their Exodus from Egypt, a journey described as escaping the misery of Egypt to the “land flowing with milk and honey”, and so we celebrate the day with dairy.
No matter the reason, let’s bring on the cheese. Since it’s not the healthiest food on the block, I always try to balance out indulgences with more nutritious options in dishes like quinoa mac and cheese. By swapping out the traditional pasta for quinoa, the dish is packed with protein and super filling. Quinoa has a heartier flavor than pasta and a nice chewy texture. This dish is creamy, cheesy, and has a nice crunch with the topping. For even more nutritional value, I added kale and mushrooms. Lest we get too wholesome, the whole thing is loaded with nearly a pound of cheese. Sounds healthy to me!
With a wink, Lisa Jacobs likes describing herself as “the world’s only Irish-Jewish cheesemaker.” But that unorthodox distinction is just one facet of her unlikely ascent from frustrated law student to artisan-dairy star.
In just five years, her Jacobs Creamery has gone from sneaking cheese production off-hours in a rural Oregon milk-bottling plant to churning out 600 pounds of the stuff every week — and finding fiercely loyal fans at farmers’ markets across Portland. “My first batch of cheese was Havarti, mainly because my dad liked it,” she laughed. “But I sold all of it.”
Today, her offerings include exquisite ricotta, crème fraiche, farmer’s cheese and fromage blanc, along with dairy-based puddings and panna cotta. Jacobs voice rises as she describes each variety in almost sensual detail. “My blue cheese is exceptional, and I’m not even a blue cheese fan. My crème fraiche is like a farmstead sour cream you’d find in Eastern Europe,” Jacobs said. “My butter is a European-style cultured butter that I hand-churn. And there’s a bloomy cheese that’s exceptionally smooth and creamy. Its flavor layers change as it ripens.”
Shmaltz Brewing Company is mixing up six different beers to create their Funky Jewbelation blend. [The Kitchn]
Cheese cakes of the world. Good info to know with Shavuot starting tonight, but also, just good information to have on hand at any time. [Kosher Eye]
Thanks to “The Avengers,” shwarma is the “it” food of the moment in LA. [Eatocracy]
Smithsonian Magazine’s June issue is dedicated to food. With pieces by Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton and Corby Kummer, we can’t wait to bite into it. [Fork in the Road]
Dragan Jankovic, a slim bespectacled man with a quick smile and thinning hair, is the living local repository of Jewish heritage in Pirot, an ancient market town in southeastern Serbia whose Jewish community was wiped out in the Holocaust. A photo-journalist who long worked for a local newspaper, Jankovic is a devout Christian, but became fascinated with Jewish history and culture as a student in Belgrade more than two decades ago. He made friends there at the Jewish Historical Museum, and since returning to Pirot he has spent years collecting material and memories about Jewish history in his hometown.
Dragan was our guide when I spent a day in Pirot during Passover as part of a fact-finding team examining the state of Jewish heritage sites in southern Serbia. “Ah, Passover,” he said. “Matzo! I tasted it once, 20 years ago, in Belgrade — someone from the Jewish Museum gave it to me, and I’ve never forgotten!” He smiled — wistfully, I thought — at the memory.
Clare Burson does not seem the least bit tired of talking about cheese. Which is a bit strange, considering how much attention one notable possession of hers — a 117-year-old wedge of cheese-turned-family heirloom passed down from her great-grandfather — has garnered (including but not limited to a story in the New Yorker. The singer songwriter is so passionate about food, particularly as a lens through which to understand her family’s history, that she hosted a food and music pairing event as the release party for her latest record, Silver and Ash (Rounder Records, 2010).
A sparsely beautiful narrative work, the album, traces Burson’s maternal grandmother’s escape from Germany in 1938. The event, which was co-hosted by history-focused gastronomist Sarah Lohman, featured four courses. Each was inspired by a different stop on Burson’s family’s journey from Germany in the ‘30’s to present-day Brooklyn. Guests dined while Burson performed the deeply moving song cycle with her guitar at the front of the room.
Listen to a sample from Silver and Ash:
“Goats are the Jews of the animal kingdom,” Aitan Mizrahi told a group at the Hazon Food Conference on Friday morning. The workshop participants, gathered in the warm, cream-scented air of a small industrial kitchen at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, immediately picked up on the tongue-in-cheek theme: They wander, they are intelligent, and they are stiff-necked, they said. And, Mizrahi pointed out, “They enjoy to be in a minyan and they also enjoy to go off on their own and shmooze.”
So the gentle and friendly milk-producers make a perfect fit for Freedman, an eco-conscious retreat space in the Berkshires.
During the session, Mizrahi described how the annex of the center’s staff housing where farming fellows make fermented delicacies, called the Cultural Center, turns goat milk into cheese and “goatgurt.” offering samples and sprinkling his presentation with biblical references. He and Adamah fellows Mònica Gomeryand Rachel Freyja Bedick also explained how the participants could turn their own kitchens into cultural hot spots.