Kosher Milk and Kosher Cheese: Just the Facts

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What is Kosher Milk?

As has been discussed earlier in this series, people who keep the kosher diet are careful to eat only kosher animals, such as cows or sheep, and to avoid eating non-kosher animals, such as pigs. The meat of the non-kosher animal is not the only non-kosher food that they try to avoid; in fact, the milk of the non-kosher animal is also considered non-kosher. Therefore, a person who keeps kosher will not drink the milk of a pig or eat dairy products made from pig’s milk.

Therefore, people who kept kosher over the centuries were careful to make sure that their milk was from a kosher animal. At times, people who did not keep kosher would milk a non-kosher animal and try to sell the milk to others who kept kosher, proclaiming that it was really kosher milk from a cow. To ensure that they would not drink non-kosher milk, people who kept kosher would make sure that another person who kept kosher was watching when a kosher animal was milked. Then they would know to trust that the milk was kosher.

What is Cholov Yisroel?

Cholov yisroel is term that is used to describe milk that is known to be kosher (i.e., watched since the time the kosher animal was milked). Nowadays you might hear people who keep kosher say that they don’t “keep cholov yisroel.” This means that they rely on the American government to ensure that their milk is from a kosher animal. Because the FDA has specific standards to ensure that a product labeled “cow’s milk” actually comes from a cow, some people who keep kosher equate FDA certification with the observation of the animal being milked. Others still do “keep cholov yisroel,” which means they will only drink milk or eat dairy products with special kosher symbols on them that signify that the animal was watched during the milking process.

Note: This discussion of whether non-cholov yisroel milk can be drunk while on the kosher diet applies only to the United States. In most other countries, where the government does not monitor milk products as carefully, people who keep kosher make sure that their milk and dairy products are cholov yisroel.

Kosher Cheese

Kosher cheese requires the same watching process as kosher milk. It does have one additional consideration, however. Cheese is made from a chemical reaction caused by mixing rennet with milk. Rennet can come from an animal’s stomach, or it can be made in a laboratory. If the rennet used to make cheese is taken from a non-kosher animal, the resulting cheese is not kosher. Kosher cheese can be made with the rennet from a kosher animal or with man-made rennet.