Archive for September 14th, 2011

Keeping Kosher in Maine: Meat, Cheese and Wine

Many people have asked me about the challenges of keeping strictly kosher in Maine.  Although we do not keep chalav Yisrael (dairy products which have been supervised by a Jew from the time of milking), some of my children and guests do, and I try to accommodate them.   I keep powdered chalav Yisrael milk on hand for unexpected visitors who have this requirement, and I bring a variety of chalav Yisrael cheeses from my home town and store it in the freezer (yes, you can freeze most varieties of cheese.  Sometimes the texture changes if eaten raw, but it is unnoticeable when melted).  Trader Joe’s in Portland carries chalav Yisrael “Pastures of Eden” feta cheese from Israel, as well as a non-chalav Yisrael Tilamook cheddar under Rabbi Teichman’s Igud HaHakashrus hechsher (from Los Angeles).  Additionally Trader Joe’s carries fresh Empire chicken, turkey breast, and ground turkey. The Trader Joe’s in Portland is 1 hour and 20 minutes’ drive from my home.

I can also find frozen Empire Cornish Hens and whole turkey at my “local” supermarket (30 miles away), at a Maine-New Hampshire chain called Hannafords (when they’re out of stock they will special order it for me for no additional charge).  I haven’t seen Empire deli meat or hot dogs anywhere, which I find surprising.  I believe I can special-order chalav Yisrael milk and other dairy products through the Chabad rebbetzin in Portland, but I haven’t needed to do this so I haven’t tried it.

Of course nowadays it is possible to order anything on the Internet, including perishables.  I was amazed to find that Costco is now selling glatt kosher cuts of beef and lamb under OU supervision.  Shipping is free to your door and arrives within 5 days of a placed order.  Although there are no Costco stores in ME, if you have a membership there you can order from their website online.

The truth is, we’ve been cutting back on our meat and cheese consumption since living in Maine.  My freezer is small and I would rather use it to hold ice cream <evil grin>.  We’ve been trying to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and cut back on cholesterol, and since it’s mostly just the two of us up here, we don’t need huge quantities of meat or cheese kept on hand.

I make all my own challah and baked goods, but I did that in my home town, too, so I don’t miss the absence of a kosher bakery.  Trader Joe’s in Portland sells 5 varieties of kosher wine under the OU (including a non-mevushal cabernet from Spain ($12);  Herzog chardonnay and cabernet ($13), and a moscato called Sara Bee for only $5.99 a bottle!)  Some branches of New Hampshire liquor and wine outlets (liquor prices are controlled by NH state government and there are many bargains) also carry kosher wine (Hagafen and Herzog).  (Since I’m located only 6 miles from the New Hampshire border, I shop as much in New Hampshire as I do in Maine.)  I can buy Kedem grape juice at Hannaford’s and WalMart.

There are also two discount chains, Reny’s of Maine and Christmas Tree Shops (!),  that sell non-perishable “overstock” items at drastically discounted prices, many of which are kosher.  You never know what you’ll find there, but it’s always interesting, sometimes exotic, and super cheap.  These places resemble Pic ‘N Save (a little nostalgia for those from California) or Amazing Savings (East Coast).

Update, Nov 2013:  Anything can be had for a price.  You can order fresh chalav yisrael milk, fresh glatt meat, bakery goods and kosher junk food from Rockland Kosher Supermarket in Monsey NY and they will ship perishables in dry ice via UPS.  We used this option to purchase 15 half gallons of chalav yisrael milk and some chalav yisrael yogurt when 11 grandchildren came to stay with us in the summer.  We put the extras in a small chest freezer I bought on sale from Home Depot, and defrosted as needed.   Price-wise it was a luxury (the actual prices of the groceries are reasonable, but the shipping cost kills you), but I figured it happens only once a year, and fresh milk tastes a thousand times better than chalav yisrael powdered milk, which most of the kids refused to drink (they weren’t being picky – – it really was nasty!)  All’s you need is a credit card and a few clicks with your computer and you have literally the entire supermarket at your disposal.  Pretty amazing, really.

No matter where you are in the United States, every store has kosher products.  We are very fortunate that the general abundance of food products with kosher certification makes keeping kosher in rural Maine so easy.