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.”
Just weeks before Hurricane Sandy devastated low-lying areas of the northeast, Brigitte Mizrahi moved into a brand-new one-bedroom apartment on the 36th floor of a residential unit in downtown Jersey City. Immediately after the storm, her living room was converted into a makeshift office where, beginning at 7:30 every morning, she met with colleagues as they worked out a plan to save their company.
“I used to wake up in the morning crying. My whole team was in my living room! It was a nightmare,” Mizrahi, 55, said.
Mizrahi is the C.E.O. of Anderson International Foods, a small kosher cheese company that supplies stores and restaurants around North America and in Australia. A Parisian with a lifelong love of cheese, it was a natural fit when she discovered that the company that turns out 20 varieties of artisan cheese was for sale.
In 2008 she moved the company from L.A. to New York and two years later the company settled into a beautiful, historic warehouse once owned by Ambriola, an importer of Italian cheeses.
On October 29, all 20,000 square feet of the warehouse flooded. Denied claims by multiple insurance companies and still waiting to hear from FEMA, the small company has rallied to save its warehouse, starting almost from scratch in order to rebuild and return to 100% production. The Forward caught up with Mizrahi to see how she’s doing three months after the storm.
Kosher cheeses from around the world can be impossible to find. Just try to locate a hekhshered English Lancashire, Greek Halloumi, Spanish Cabrales, or triple crème from France and you will be utterly disappointed. For American home cooks, or even professional chefs, this can put a halt to some recipes that delve into the cultures of faraway places that could intrigue and delight one’s family, friends, or clientele. Cheese is an integral part of many country’s cuisines and something that had been made at home for centuries. While some varieties require a few specialty ingredients and long tedious processes, others can be produced very simply in under a few hours without much supervision — a superb way for the home chef to add a bit authenticity to a regional recipe while still sticking within kosher confines.
Indian cuisine can be prepared best as a dairy meal, the main reason for this being the consistent use of ghee (clarified butter). This key ingredient is easily made at home by slowly heating a desired amount of butter in a saucepan and ladling off the milk solids that rise to the top. You are then left with a translucent yellowish cooking oil that is great for anything from simmering to sautéing at high heats. Without the milk solids, the clarified butter has a higher smoke point, but still maintains a rich flavor. Ghee is used in many traditional recipes and adds richness to vegetarian dishes such as dahl makhani, lentils cooked in a garlicky, buttery sauce, and chana masala, chickpeas simmered in a spicy tomato & onion base. Another ingredient that will generously diversify your Indian recipe repertoire is paneer, a traditional Indian cheese that can be made at home with only two ingredients. Paneer, with its versatile mild flavor, can be used in many ways — appetizers, main course, and desserts
Many passionate kosher foodies know that kosher cheese is no longer limited to blocks of cheddar and shredded mozzarella. More and more, kosher cheese makers are trying their hands at artisanal, specialty cheeses. There are Israeli cheese makers who travel to France to learn the tricks of the trade, and Wisconsin cheese makers who add spicy flavors to their authentic Midwestern cheeses (that just happen to be kosher). Raw milk is also increasingly common in kosher cheese, as are strong, sharp flavors.
“In the past 10 years, kosher cheese has really taken off,” said Elizabeth Bland, the Alabama-born cheesemonger at Brooklyn’s Pomegranate kosher supermarket. The self-described “cheese mistress” has organized kosher wine and cheese pairing parties for the past three years (“I don’t eat much meat because it messes with my cheese schedule,” she said with a laugh).