Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cholov Yisroel hard cheese now being made in Canada

MONTREAL - Canadian-made cholov Yisroel hard cheese will soon be appearing in kosher food stores across the country for the first time in recent history.

This type of cheese, which is made under the most rigorous kashrut supervision, has been available here for many years only in the form of imports, mainly from the United States and Israel.

The Montreal-headquartered Eldorado Dairy Company Ltd. has received rare permission from the Canadian Dairy Commission for an annual quota of milk to produce a wide variety of ripened cheeses at its plant near Belleville, Ont. The company is under the supervision of Montreal’s Vaad Ha’ir and the cheese will bear the MK hechsher.

The Canadian dairy industry is tightly regulated and, in Ontario, it’s virtually impossible for a new cheese company to obtain a milk quota, unless it can show it will fill a niche not met by any other Canadian business. (The amount of milk produced in the province is set by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario.)

Eldorado, whose president is Michael Rosenberg, was accepted under the Dairy Commission’s Domestic Dairy Products Innovation Program, designed to encourage Canadian production and reduce reliance on imports.

With the start of domestic production, imported cholov Yisroel hard cheese will likely begin disappearing in Canada.

Laval Letourneau, chair of the program’s selection committee, said Eldorado asked for and was granted three to five million litres of milk per year, which will enable it to produce 300 to 500 tons of cheese. This amount could be increased in time if the demand is there, said Letourneau, who is also chief of commercial operations for the commission, a Crown corporation that co-ordinates federal and provincial dairy policies.

The first Eldorado products, under the brand name Golden Cheese, are expected to be on the market by the end of March. Another one or two labels are to be announced in the coming months, Rosenberg said, possibly one for the Muslim halal market.

Rosenberg bought and updated the Eldorado Cheese Factory, in the hamlet of Eldorado in Madoc Township. The formerly non-kosher plant, founded in 1951, has been closed for eight years.

Rosenberg has retained one of its award-winning cheesemakers, who has almost 20 years of experience in cheese-making and running two plants. Rosenberg himself is a newcomer to the food industry. He has worked in the distribution of electronic goods in recent years. He will be co-ordinating the company’s day-to-day business administration and sales from Montreal.

Rosenberg said the plant has the capacity to process just over five million litres of milk annually, and to produce approximately 530,000 kilograms of hard cheese. “We have the ability to scale this up to 10 million litres as the company grows,” he said.

He estimates that his potential market is 800,000 kilograms per year, assuming that 25 per cent of Canada’s approximately 400,000 Jews keep kosher.

“The average Canadian eats 12 kilograms of cheese a year. I would think Jews eat somewhat less because of not mixing meat and dairy, so I put it at 8 kilograms a year.”

Among the products Eldorado will be making are various kinds of cheddar and mozzarella, cheese curds, emmenthal, edam, colby, Monterey Jack, muenster, provolone, havarti, Swiss, gouda and farmers, as well as fresh cheeses like cottage, ricotta and feta, in a wide variety of formats, such as blocks, sliced and shredded, and in weights up to 40 lbs. for the food-service industry.

The Montreal Vaad has actually designated the Eldorado products as “mehadrin” cholov Yisroel, which even the most stringent kashrut observer will find acceptable, said the Vaad’s executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel. All products are also kosher for Passover.

He hailed the launch of Eldorado as “an exciting development” because it encourages local kosher enterprise, makes efficient supply more likely, and may mean lower prices for consumers.

Cholov Yisroel cheese is supervised full-time by mashgichim from the time the cows are milked through the milk’s transport, processing and packaging. Eldorado is being supplied by a farm near Ottawa.

Instead of rennet, which is usually derived from a cow’s stomach lining, Eldorado is using enzymes to curdle the milk, Rosenberg said.

Cholov Yisroel represents about 70 per cent of the kosher cheese market in Canada, Rosenberg said.

Non-cholov Yisroel kosher hard cheese, as well as fresh, is made in this country. Rabbi Emanuel said this type of cheese production is supervised by a mashgiach at the plant only.

As the Eldorado products come onto the market, importers will no longer be able to bring in similar cholov Yisroel cheeses tariff-free, Letourneau explained. They could continue to bring them in if they pay the full tariff, he said. (Free trade does not apply to dairy products.)

Certain types of imported cholov Yisroel cheese, say havarti or edam, may continue to come in, until Eldorado is making those types, or if Eldorado does not make them.

Rosenberg acknowledges that there may be some resistance from consumers who have been used to eating the same (imported) cholov Yisroel brands perhaps all their lives, but thinks they will be won over by the quality of his products.

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