Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waiting After Eating Cheese

Guest post by R. Avraham Gordimer

The Remo (YD 89:2) notes that the custom is to wait after eating hard cheese before partaking of meat, just as one waits after meat before dairy; this minhag has become accepted practice for Ashkenazim. (See Chochmas Adam 40:13.) [More about this at the links below]

Most poskim maintain that the waiting period after consuming hard cheese before then eating meat is identical to the waiting period after eating meat before one wishes to partake of dairy foods. Thus, one should follow his personal custom regarding waiting after meat for the purpose of waiting after hard cheese. A most critical question, however, is what constitutes hard cheese (for the purpose of waiting) according the Remo. Is all cheese which we refer to as “hard” included in this category? The answer is a clear “no”. [More about this at the links below]

Click here to read moreThe Shach (YD 89:15) and Taz (89:4), among other major early poskim, explain that with regard to waiting before eating meat, cheese is considered to be hard if it is six months old (or if it has developed holes, done via worms in those days - see Aruch Ha-Shulchan ibid.). It should be noted that the six-month period is apparently not absolute. This is emphasized by some contemporary poskim, for the Shach (ibid.) writes that, “In general, six month-old cheese is classified as hard”. The Shach seemingly posits that six months is an approximate estimation of when cheese is categorized as hard for the purpose of waiting.

There are three basic positions among American poskim (and the kashrus agencies which many of them guide) regarding how to determine which types of cheese require one to wait after consuming them before then partaking of meat:

1) Some poskim advance a quite conservative position in categorizing hard cheese. These poskim look exclusively to the cheese’s texture and only require a waiting period for cheese which is so brittle such it shreds or grates when cut, unable to be sliced. The vast majority of cheeses do not fit into this category; parmesan is the only common cheese which meets this extremely-limited definition of hard cheese.

2) Other poskim and kashrus agencies take a totally different approach. They hold that if cheese is six months old, it requires a waiting period, regardless of the cheese’s texture (or taste). In fact, these poskim and agencies assure (by use of production-date codes) that the consumer is knowledgeable of the date of manufacture of any cheese they certify so that the consumer can easily determine when the product has become six months old. These poskim and agencies are aware that the date of manufacture is especially relevant for cheese with a long shelf-life. Many varieties of cheese (e.g. muenster, provolone, some types of cheddar) are not always aged by their manufacturers for significant periods of time. However, these cheeses may become six months old or more by the time they arrive on the consumer’s table, as they are well-preserved and are able to remain fresh for extended durations.

Consultations with dairy and cheese experts have revealed that cheese indeed continues to “ripen” (develop) even after it is packaged, but the extent and quality of such ripening depend on a variety of conditions, including the type of cheese, storage temperature and moisture level, as well as method of packaging.

Those who are machmir to wait after all cheese which is six months old, even if the cheese reaches the six-month period incidentally while sitting on a supermarket shelf, point to the ongoing ripening process even after packaging. Those who do not require waiting after such cheese hold that the rate of ripening after packaging is insignificant, as – if ripening after packaging would affect the cheese in any serious way, noticeably transforming the texture or taste – the manufacturer would not be able to sell stable and predicable product, for the ability of the cheese to ripen so as to materially change it would be present once the cheese leaves the factory. Although it is true that one can sometimes retain many non-aged cheeses well past their expiration dates and thereby cultivate a truly ripened, highly-enhanced product, this latter position points to the fact that cheese eaten within its expiration date is expected by the manufacturer to retain its qualities and characteristics as at the time of sale, when the cheese was surely not aged (for six months).

3) A third, arguably more complex approach, is that (a) cheese which must be aged for approximately six months in order to attain proper, very firm texture, and (b) cheese of any age which has a potent aftertaste, are categorized as the types of cheeses for which one must wait after their consumption. (These factors reflect the two reasons for waiting after eating meat before then partaking of dairy: (a) Residue which is “bein ha-shinayim” and takes time to dislodge or disintegrate, and (b) “Meshichas ta’am” - aftertaste. The texture of aged cheese and the aftertaste of some cheeses would necessitate waiting after consuming them before then consuming meat.)

Thus, a three-month aged cheese may subject one to a waiting period if its aging endows the cheese with a very pungent flavor (resulting in a strong aftertaste) which it would not possess were it aged for a lesser duration, and cheese which must be aged at the cheese factory for around six months in order to be considered to be that specific variety of cheese, both necessitate waiting after their consumption before eating meat. (Since the “six-month” aging period is likely really an estimate reflective of significant hardening, and earlier poskim have posited that a cheese’s lingering aftertaste due to its fattiness is a factor in having to wait after eating it, this position does not adopt an exact number of months for which a cheese must be aged in order to require a waiting period, as each cheese must be evaluated by the two factors above.) On a practical level, this approach mandates waiting after Romano cheese (among others), as it cannot be made unless it ages for five to seven months (which meets the six-months approximation), while a cheese which does not need such aging but has nonetheless aged on a supermarket shelf for six months or longer would not necessitate waiting.

The truth is that many cheeses undergo several phases of aging. These cheeses are initially left to sit for one day to several weeks in order for whey (excess liquid) to drain and for the curd (cheese mass) to dehydrate and stiffen, as a metamorphosis from a loose, moist curd to a dry, firm one occurs. The second phase of aging is when these cheeses develop their unique taste profiles and harden to much stiffer textures. Cheeses which must age and ripen during this second phase for approximately six months to a degree which significantly hardens them as necessary, and cheeses which are aged for even shorter durations during this phase in order to bring out an extremely powerful taste, are those which this approach addresses.

It should be kept in mind that cheese which is intended for conversion to cheese powder often does not require prolonged aging periods, as firm texture is not necessary and taste can be artificially developed in shorter periods by use of lipase and other enzymes and flavor agents. Furthermore, different sub-varieties of cheese of the same cheese type can be aged for vastly different amounts of time. These differences reflect divergent grades of the same variety of a specific cheese, as determined by its aging.

An exception to the practice of waiting after aged hard cheese should likely be made for feta, a Greek rennet-set cheese which is cured in brine (salt-water solution) for a period that ranges from a two months to six months. Unlike other types of aged cheese, feta is not exposed to air during its curing, and its texture is not excessively hard. It is therefore likely that feta would not be considered a hard cheese for purposes of waiting six hours, even if it is cured for six months. As there is no halachic literature on the subject, one should ask his personal moreh hora’ah if any waiting period is advised.

What is the rule if hard cheese is melted? There is a well-known approach of the Yad Yehuda (YYK 89:30), who asserts that hard cheese melted into food is not subject to the Remo’s chumra. Not all poskim concur with the Yad Yehuda’s leniency. This author has been told by students of Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita that Rav Feinstein does not accept the Yad Yehuda’s position at all. (The great exception for melted cheese as advanced by the Yad Yehuda is absent in the classical poskim and halachic codes.) It is thus clearly necessary to consult one’s posek as to how to deal with the matter.

The OU’s poskim have adopted the opinion of the Yad Yehuda that aged cheese which has been melted into food is not subject to the special waiting period. The OU’s poskim also do not require one to wait after eating unintentionally-aged cheese, meaning that the cheese was not aged at the factory for very long, but the cheese incidentally “aged” on a store or refrigerator shelf for six months. Only cheese which must be aged for six months by its manufacturer (or is very pungent) subjects one to the waiting period.

Here are some common cheeses and the lengths of time for which they are aged:

  • Bleu: 2-4.5 months
  • Brie: 3-6 weeks
  • Camembert (French-made): 3-5 weeks
  • Cheddar: 2 months to 2 years or longer (Sharp cheddar is aged for at least 5 months *)
  • Colby: 1-3 months
  • Edam: 3 months
  • Emental (Swiss Cheese-Switzerland): 6-14 months *
  • Feta (from cow milk): brined 2-3 months
  • Feta (from goat or sheep milk): brined 3-6 months
  • Gouda: 3 monthsGruyere: 7 weeks-3 months
  • Monterey: 2 months
  • Mozzarella: 30 Days
  • Muenster: 5-7 weeks
  • Parmesan: 10-24 months or more *
  • Provolone: 3-12 months, depending on variety (* If variety of Provolone which is aged approx. 6 months)
  • Romano: 5-12 months *
  • Swiss Cheese/American-Made: 3-4 months
* = Must Wait After Consumption According to OU Poskim

(See also here and here)

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