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Why don't Jews eat cheese?

I was on another thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/920210 where DevorahL asked where to buy really good supervised cheese, and I began to wonder.

It has been a decade or more since fine and artisinal cheeses began to appear on the shelves of kosher stores. Some American, some from Europe or Israel. Yet they are still scarce, often out of stock, and lots of kosher grocers hardly stock them at all.

It's not all that long since fine wine, lamb, wine vinegar, fine parve baking chocolate, and other pricey foodie delights first became available kosher in the U.S. These, however, are now widely available.

Obviously, if the demand was there, grocers would stock it.

And it can't be merely that it's new. A generation ago Jew (and no American) ate raw fish, cold rice, or pickled ginger.

So, can somebody please explain why Jews don't eat cheese?

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  1. Many Ashkenazi Jews have a lactose intolerance.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SoCal Mother

      Which shouldn't really be an issue with hard aged cheese. It makes sense for bleus and bries, but Romanos, Gran Padanos, Parmigiano Reggianos? Though I suppose that last category has grown more than the others recently.

    2. I think a number of Jews do eat cheese. But there are a couple of problems:

      1) Cheese is expensive. Cooking dairy with significant amounts of cheese isn't necessarily cheaper than cooking meat (or at least chicken). And that doesn't necessarily make sense to kosher consumers, since they think of meat being expensive (hence the reason why meat restaurants tend to have more success). Kosher cheese is often more expensive than its equivalent in nonkosher, so there's also no market for the kosher stuff to those who don't keep kosher.

      2) Gevinat Yisrael also is an issue. Some Jews who keep kosher will eat unhechshered or Tablet-K cheese. And cheese for those who don't is more of a pain to make (which is why 5-Spokes went under Tablet-K).

      3) Along the same lines- a lot of the good imported cheeses are under a variety of European hechshers, which may be reliable but kosher stores and buyers aren't necessarily familiar with them.

      4) High end cheese counters cut a lot of the cheese themselves. That doesn't work for kosher cheeses.

      1 Reply
      1. re: masteraleph

        I'm going to agree with you on #1.
        Cheese is not cheap- and you need more than just cheese to make a meal.

        A lot of people don't find cheese/dairy to be filling. Men, especially the ones I know, feel like a dinner of chicken/meat/steak is much more satisfying than a dinner that's cheese based.

        Another thing that's kind of common is the idea that meat is "party food" or more festive than dairy. Most weddings are meat. Many people cook primarily meat meals for Shabbat and holidays.

      2. Jews are still too trained to think about meat, meat, and only meat. It's the same reason dairy restaurants that are not pizza joints have a hard time surviving.

        I once overhead the staff at supersol say, "I don't know why anyone buys this stuff when they can use Miller's". With attitudes like that, I'm not shocked that higher end cheeses have trouble staying stocked in stores.

        1. technically, many cheeses are not kosher because the enzyme used in a lot of cheesemaking, called rennet, is derived from the inside of the mammalian stomach (frequently calves' stomachs). due to the kosher prohibition on mixing meat and milk, this makes many cheeses off-limits to those who keep kosher. (as an aside, it also makes many cheeses NOT vegetarian, which i always get a bit of a chuckle out of). there are cheeses out there made with vegetarian rennet substitutes - usually not specialty cheeses anyway - but many of my jewish friends avoid cheese out of habit rather than attempting to investigate the manufacture details of a given cheese. also, ingesting cheese makes meat a no-go for up to 6 hours. these would be my guesses.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chartreauxx

            The issue with rennet is not meat-and-milk mixtures; it's that the rennet needs to come from a kosher-slaughtered animal: http://www.kosherquest.org/book.php?i...

            Any of the cheeses being discussed above wouldn't require your friends to "investigate the manufacture details of a given cheese" because they're all kosher-certified.

            Only some hard cheeses require waiting afterwards before eating meat, not all, although I agree that's an issue: http://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-kos...

            1. re: GilaB

              oops, right you are! missed the "available in kosher stores" bit! my bad, i was talking about not buying cheeses in general food markets.

          2. Hard for me not to generalize, but the bulk of sales from my possibly limited experience is for American and string cheese with shredded mozzarella and cheddar probably a little farther behind. If I had to guess, that comprises 90% of Kosher cheese sales. The bulk of the remainder are Israeli cheeses or the odd havarti/smoked gouda.

            I suspect if buyers demanded it you'd see more of it, but my guess is the demand is so limited that no stores are willing to maintain inventory and eat the spoilage.