How do you choose your master cheese makers?
Rabbi Moshe Vogel: We are drawn to craftsmen who share our passion for making the best cheeses. Our cheese makers view their skill as a form of art.We also look for cheese makers who can combine the essence of tradition—“old world, European cheese making”—with the demands of an increasingly sophisticated consumer, looking for culinary experiences.
Because our emphasis has always been on top quality, our cheeses have good shelf life. The resealable bags of shreds, for example, lets you enjoy the flavor of the cheese in your favorite dishes without having to worry about mold growth.
What does it take to make a Cholov Yisroel cheese production?
Rabbi Leizer Teitelbaum: A Cholov Yisroel cheese production begins with a mashgiach at the farm for the milking. AIF is always looking for new farms with more milking capacity to increase Cholov Yisroel production.
Our mashgiach goes to each farm and supervises milking from the beginning to the end. Once the milking is complete, the mashgiach oversees how the milk is loaded onto a truck and seals the truck at all openings.
RMV: Our milk comes from dairies that share our philosophy for the humane treatment of the herd, free pastures, and rBST-free milk (no growth hormones). We believe that great cheese starts with great milk.
RLT: The cheese facilities are not located on the farms, so trucks filled with Cholov Yisroel milk are sealed at the farm with a report of the driver’s name, quantity and lot number. The mashgiach’s report is emailed to the OKright away, telling us that a Cholov Yisroel truck left the farm and headed to a plant. The trucks are unloaded within hours, so there is never a problem of kovush (absorption).
The facility that makes the bulk of AIF’s Cholov Yisroel cheeses is in California. This cheese plant has a silo dedicated for AIF’s Cholov Yisroel milk. The mashgiach is always present at the cheese production facility during a kosher production. At the cheese plant, a mashgiach is there to receive the milk; he unseals the truck and then supervises the production of cheese. From the beginning of the process, including adding the cultures and enzymes so that the milk coagulates, our mashgichim are completely involved in the production.
The actual cheese production uses microbial (non-animal) rennet and is completed within a day. The cheeses are immediately sealed, and then the aging process begins. When the cheese sets (after a certain aging period), the blocks are opened and cut at a separate facility and the mashgiach is there again to ensure that the cut and wrap, slicing and/or shredding is done according to kosher guidelines.
Rabbi Teitelbaum, what is it like working with AIF?
RLT: Moshe Vogel knows a lot about cheese, and is very into the technical details of cheese production and kashrus. Before becoming a manager, he actually worked as a mashgiach at AIF on behalf of the OK! It is very rare to have a cheese maker who really understands kashrus from the inside.
How many of AIF’s cheeses are Cholov Yisroel?
RMV: Our Cholov Yisroel cheeses include Mozzarella, Muenster, Cheddar, Pepper Jack, American, Swiss, and Smoked Provolone. Both the Provolone and Pepper Jack cheeses are considered specialty cheeses. All of the Cholov Yisroel cheeses (with the exception of Pepper Jack) are kosher for Pesach. In addition, we are working on four more specialty cheeses, which should be available in the coming months.
Are any of AIF’s cheeses 6-hour cheeses?
RMV: Yes, our Swiss and Parmesan (coming soon) cheeses are both 6- hour cheeses.
Rabbi Teitelbaum, how does the OK implement kosher production at AIF facilities?
RLT: The Cholov Yisroel farms are located in Southern California. I personally set up the kashrus system with Rabbi Vogel. We have a team of over 15 mashgichim that work in different aspects of the production— from milking, to the actual cheese production, to the cheese cutting. There is absolutely no “cutting corners” when it comes to the kashrus at AIF.
Rabbi Vogel, where did you learn so much about the art of cheese production?
RMV: I took courses at California Polytechnic State University to study the art of cheese making and earned a California pasteurizing license, as well. The mix of having someone with kashrus experience and an intimate knowledge of cheese production is unique to AIF!
Rabbi Vogel, how has it been working with the OK?
RMV: We have had no difficulties working with the OK. They have been very helpful—fantastic, actually. The rabbis at the OKare knowledgeable and professional and always coming up with innovative and creative ideas to make sure production works smoothly.
Where can consumers purchase AIF cheeses?
RMV: Our cheeses are available at supermarkets and kosher stores nationwide, as well as in Costco stores in Jewish areas. If consumers ask the manager of their local grocery store to carry our products, they will likely find a way to get them on the shelves.
Have any other kosher inspectors come to AIF plants?
RMV: Other kosher giants have visited our facilities and were very impressed with the kashrus standards implemented by the OKand have stated that they would give hashgocha without changing any of the kashrus protocol.
Rabbi Vogel, any final remarks?
RMV: AIF is passionate about cheese and passionate about kosher. We look for facilities and cheese makers who are passionate about the art of making cheese and strive to provide consumers with the best product and the highest kosher standards.