Kosher Korner: #Cheesespotting – What is it and why do we need it?

This edition of Kosher Korner is dedicated to cheese!

The magical transformation of milk into an endless array of delicacies. From cheese slices to aged blue cheeses, what makes this tasty, and sometimes exotic, food such a kosher hot topic?

To answer that we call on the local leader of kosher food documenting. Through her Facebook group “Ottawa Kosher Foodies” comes #Cheesespotting, which is the hashtag or search tool her group members use to find and label posts about cheese. Let’s hear what Aviva Rotenberg has to say.

EB: What was the inspiration for #cheesespotting? 

AR: Traditionally, to find kosher cheese you needed to buy a specifically kosher (ie. not a mainstream) brand. This has changed in recent years with companies like Bothwell and others beginning to certify some of their products. It made sense to me to track where one could find kosher cheese sources in Ottawa besides Loblaws at College Square and so, #cheesespotting was born.  

EB: What are your goals for #cheesespotting? 

AR: The goal is the same as everything else on Ottawa Kosher Foodies: to help people access kosher food in Ottawa, sometimes in unexpected places. 

EB: What is its relationship to Ottawa Kosher Foodies? 

AR: OKF has over 1500 members, many of whom are only too happy to share their kosher finds. As a group, we visit more shops than I ever could on my own. By accessing the OKF community, the information is constantly being refreshed. Also, if you are looking for cheese, it is really easy to just search OKF for '#cheesespotting' and find many posts that will point you in the right direction. 

EB: Why is cheese such a “hot topic” in Ottawa? - Why would a kosher consumer get excited about finding kosher cheese in random shops?  

AR: I think it relates to what I've mentioned above about fairly limited kosher cheese availability historically. These days if you know where to look you can find kosher Macedonian feta (Duke's Fine Foods), lactose-free bleu cheese (Natural Food Pantry), habanero Monterey Jack (Food Basics), Lithuanian caraway flavoured farmer's cheese (Stolichni Deli), and pareve cheese curds for poutine (Farm Boy)! 

EB: Is everything posted in OKF really kosher? 

AR: I try really hard to ensure that only kosher products are posted in OKF- it is one of the group's rules. That said, we have diversity among our members and not everyone 'keep's kosher' the same way. I try to be mindful and respectful of that while still ensuring we adhere to the rules. 

EB: Anything else we should know about OKF or #Cheesespotting? 

AR: Come join us! It's a fun group that really has community building at its centre. 
Thanks Aviva, that was really helpful! But one question still remains…What makes cheese kosher? 

Rabbi Levy Teitelbaum, Ottawa Vaad HaKashrut's director, take it away…

EB: Why is it hard to find kosher cheese?

RT: Generally speaking, factories that produce kosher products are inspected by a Mashgiach (a kosher certifier) on a regular basis. How often a factory is visited depends on the complexity of the product. 
Some products are produced as Kosher only when a Mashgiach is always present due to extra ordinary regulations. Such items include meat, wine, Matzah, and cheese. 

This makes their production costs higher and so such items are usually only sold in targeted markets and produced as special batch runs. Meaning, that only those looking specifically for kosher cheese will be the purchasers of these product. Local stores without a steady stream of kosher consumers will probably not carry a wide variety of these products. 

That is why #Cheesespotting is so helpful and why it is so exciting to see kosher cheese at smaller and speciality shops.

For a more complete understanding of the complexities of making kosher cheese, please see this article by the OU, the largest kosher certifier in the world.

Happy #Cheesespotting!