It’s Cheesy

Legends tell us that cheese was first discovered by accident when a shepherd, carrying milk in a sack made from the lining of an animal’s stomach, discovered that the milk had hardened — the gastric juices in the stomach lining interacted with the milk to produce what we call cheese. Of course, the story does not go on to say if the shepherd became rich by selling this new-found product!

There are basically two types of cheese: soft cheese like cream cheese, cottage cheese and feta, and hard cheese like cheddar and mozzarella.

Soft cheese is produced by adding bacterial cultures, or some other substance, to sour the milk. This results in the formation of soft cheese curds and whey.

Hard cheeses are produced by adding rennet enzymes to milk, whereupon somewhat firm cheese curds form, accompanied by liquid whey. Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach lining of a calf. Of course, to produce kosher cheese, the rennet used must be from a kosher animal.

Both types of cheese are made by packing the curds together and discarding the whey. The curds are then either kept loose or molded tightly. After that, other ingredients may be added to produce different types of cheese.

Heavy cream or milk powder may be added to adjust the amount of fat. Vinegar and other enzymes are commonly added to create different flavors and help the milk interact with the rennet. Each cheesemaker uses different additives to create the thousands of types of cheese in the world today.

While all hard cheeses include rennet, each type of cheese is produced differently. Parmesan cheese is made by adding rennet to boiling milk and then aging the cheese for over a year until it is hard. Mozzarella cheese is cooked then stretched in a tub of water, giving it the stretchy texture that’s perfect for pizza.

Some cheeses are stored in salt-water to keep them from spoiling. Cheddar cheese is manufactured at cool temperatures and aged. Aging cheese gives it both a firm texture and sharp taste. The more cheese is aged, the stronger its flavor.

In every country in the world one can find different varieties of cheese. France is known for Camembert; Switzerland for Emmenthaler or Swiss cheese. Cheddar comes from England and feta from Greece. And while America has not developed any cheeses of its own, it has created American cheese — a blend of other cheeses, mostly less expensive, melted down and combined.

Because kosher hard cheese can only be manufactured with kosher rennet, there has traditionally been less variety in the kosher market. However in recent years, as kosher cuisine has become more sophisticated, cheesemakers have begun introducing a wider variety of tasty products to the market. They mostly use artificial rennet to produce firm cheeses, giving them opportunity to create new items to rival anything available in the general market. Of course, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that eating hard cheese sometimes means waiting six hours before eating meat, so plan your meals accordingly.

Four-Cheese Spaghetti

  • 1-16 ounce package of spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons whipped cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, checked and chopped

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a 5-6-quart pot. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt, add spaghetti and cook for about 7-8 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Do not rinse.

In a large sauté pan, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and stir, cooking for about a minute.

Add spaghetti, cream cheese and heavy cream to the skillet. Bring to a boil and add shredded cheeses. Stir constantly until cheeses are melted and pasta is completely coated, about a minute, adding reserved pasta water if it is not creamy enough. Reduce heat and continue to cook and stir until sauce is thickened and reduced, about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in some of the parsley. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve hot, and garnish with more fresh parsley.

Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.

Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.