Can Cheese Be Jewish?

By | Tagged: culture, Life

“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 Gomery and Rachel Freyja Bedick also explained how the participants could turn their own kitchens into cultural hot spots.

The first step in the process is to pasteurize the gallon or so of milk that each goat produces each day by keeping it at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. The milk is then brought to a lower temperature to start the cheese-making process.

The temperature and timing, regardless of the kind of cheese, are key. During the demonstration, Mizrahi focused on the somewhat forgiving farmer’s cheese.

To the warm milk, the cheese-niks add either vinegar or cheese culture and rennet to coagulate the liquid. In the batch for the demonstration, Mizrahi simply added one cup of white vinegar per gallon of milk. (It would take about ¼ teaspoon each of culture and rennet otherwise.) Before our eyes, the curds separated from the yellow-tinted whey. A volunteer helped to spoon the curds into butter muslin — a fine cheese cloth — and wrap them up.

The curds would then hang for a short time before it was ready to eat. Mizrahi uses different processes to produce feta, farmer’s cheese, rennet cheese and chevre.

Posted on December 13, 2010

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