Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The cheese mystery: still unsolved

My Cousin the Biologist was visiting a few weeks ago, so I took the opportunity to ask him about the cheesemaking mystery I raised a few months ago.

The rabbis, I mentioned, were certain that only kosher milk can be coagulated to make cheese. "Non-kosher milk doesn't curdle." Why should this be so?

His immediate reaction: Disbelief. A contemptuous scowl transformed his face. "Can't be! I'm sure any milk will curdle if you add rennet!"

I assured him that, aside from the adamant Talmudic statement, I had done a bit of research and had found no evidence of cheese made from non-kosher milk (with the possible exception of camel milk cheese, which has only become possible recently due to modern agricultural technology).

Dairy processing is admittedly not his specialty, but he was stumped. He couldn't suggest why only ruminants' milk should coagulate.

Biology grad students take heed: This could be the route to your Ph.D.!


Rachel Ann said...

Are you certain it isn't that cheese can't be made from both cows and another animals milk and that if such a cheese is made the milk is easily separated out by squeezing under water? Because when I did a quick search I found info on both mares milk cheese and camels milk cheese. I would like to learn further info on this.

Zman Biur said...

Rachel Ann,

Please see my previous posts on this topic.

The Talmud is very clear: Kosher milk coagulates; non-kosher milk doesn't. It's hard to imagine it could be utterly wrong on a basic fact of food production, considering that non-kosher milk was readily available from various sources (pigs, horses, camels, donkeys, etc.).

All the references I find to "mares milk cheese" are historical, attributing it to the ancient Greeks. Could this be a translation error? Maybe "mares" could refer to something other than horses? Or perhaps it wasn't really cheese (curdled milk), but some other solid preserved milk product? Otherwise, it's odd that this product seems to have vanished since ancient Greece.

Regarding camels milk cheese, I think you'll find all the references are to new food technology developed in the last ten years, and the product doesn't qualify as cheese as we know it.