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Waiting After Hard Cheese

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Rema writes that the practice is to wait after eating hard cheese before partaking of meat, just as one waits after meat before dairy (89:2).

However, it may interest you to know that the custom of waiting between eating hard cheese and a meat meal is a subject of debate among the rabbinic commentaries. Maharshaldisputes Rema’s approach and dismisses it as a “heresy” since the Talmud specifically states that there is no need to wait at all after consuming cheese (quoted by Shach s.k. 17).

Gra writes that the Zohar in Parshat Mishpatim also endorses the position of Rema and takes issue with Maharshal’s contention that Rema contradicts the Gemara’sstatement that one may eat meat after cheese, explaining that the practice to refrain from hard cheese before meat is a stringency akin to other personal stringencies practiced by the Sages of the Talmudand recorded in tractate Chullin (s.k. 11).

Thus, from the words of Rema, Shach and Gra, as well as the elaboration on Remaby Taz and Be’er Hetev, it is quite clear that one should conduct themselves strictly and not eat meat after hard cheese.

The author of the Shulchan Aruch omits this issue, seemingly holding that one may indeed eat meat right after hard cheese. Sephardim should consult their individual halachic authorities as to how to conduct themselves.

What Constitutes Hard Cheese?

A most critical question, however, is what constitutes hard cheese (for the purpose of waiting). Is all cheese which we refer to as “hard” included in this category?

The answer is a clear “no.” The authorities explain that cheese is considered to be hard for the purpose for waiting if it is six months old or if it is developed to the extent that it has holes (such as Swiss cheese – see Aruch HaShulchan ibid.).

Many kashrut organizations take the position that the six-month period is not to be applied literally in determining whether or not a given cheese is “hard.” Rather, these agencies interpret the six-month period as a general indicator of cheese with unique “aged” qualities, maintaining that the six-month figure is not absolute. These kashrut agencies look to the cheese’s texture and only require waiting periods for cheese that is hard enough so that it shreds or grates when cut.

The OU’s “Aged” Cheese List

Along the same lines, if a cheese is specifically marketed by its manufacturer as “aged,” some kashrut organizations advocate a waiting period (even though the cheese will not necessarily shred or grate when cut), as the company that specifies its cheese as aged is notifying consumers that the product has the distinct, long-lasting flavor associated with purposefully-aged cheese.

It is precisely the long-lasting flavor quality of meat that engenders its waiting period according to many authorities; so, too, in the case of aged cheese, its long-lasting flavor creates the obligation to wait after consuming it before eating meat, as the taste of the cheese lingers for quite a while. (See Aruch HaShulchanibid.)

Other kashrut agencies take a totally different approach. They maintain that if cheese is six months old, it requires a waiting period, regardless of the cheese’s taste or texture. In fact, these agencies assure (by use of production-date codes) that the consumer is knowledgeable of the date of manufacture of any cheese it certifies so that the consumer can easily determine when the product has become six months old.

These kashrut 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 aged by their manufacturers for significant periods of time, if at all. 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.

These agencies advise that one wait before eating meat after consuming such unintentionally-aged cheese, whereas other major kashrut agencies do not endorse a waiting period in such cases.

What if my cheese sits in a supermarket refrigerator for a long time?

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 stringent to wait after all cheese that 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 predictable 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 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.

FDA regulations (CFR 21:133) provide aging periods for numerous types of cheese. In order for a company to legally label its cheese as being of a specific variety, it is required that the product be aged for a mandatory period; otherwise, the cheese does not meet the legal specifications of the variety.

Among the listings: Cheddar, Edam, Emmentaler, Gouda, Provolone and Swiss cheese must be aged for at least 60 days; Romano and Sap Sago cheese must aged for at least five months; Asiago medium cheese and “hard grating cheeses” (all types) must be aged for at least six months; Parmesan and Reggiano cheese must be aged for at least ten months; hard Asiago cheese must be aged for at least a year…

Is the halachah (Jewish law) different for melted hard cheese?

There is a well-known approach of Yad Yehuda, who asserts that melted cheese is not subject to Rema’sstringency (YYK 89:30). Some apply this ruling to all melted cheese (e.g. Parmesan cheese melted onto pizza), while others contend that Yad Yehuda’s position only pertains to cheese melted into food (e.g. lasagna), whereas hard cheese melted onto food and cheese which is not part of a food at all remains subject to Rema’s waiting period. Others apply Yad Yehuda’s position to all cheese that has been melted, even if it has become re-hardened by the point of consumption.

Furthermore, not all authorities concur with Yad Yehuda’s leniency. It is thus clearly necessary to consult one’s halachic decisor as to how to deal with the matter. The above was intended to merely lay out some basic approaches as to how to conduct oneself after consuming dairy before eating meat. As with any halachic topic, one should speak with their own rabbi for guidance.

The two approaches as to how to define hard cheese for the purpose of waiting seem to hinge on an apparent dispute between Shach and Taz. At face value, Taz (89:4) presents the six-month period as a flat rule (“The measure for hard cheese that Rema wrote about is that which is six months old…” ), whereas Shachwrites, On average, if it is six months old, it is considered to be hard…” (s.k. 15).

Upon a careful reading of the words of Taz and Shach, one can detect that they seem to differ in their views. Whereas Taz gives six months as the measure of time to render cheese hard, Shach presents this period as a mere estimation. That is to say, Tazseems to maintain that the six-month period is what classifies cheese as “hard” and one must follow this time period as the factor in determining the law (unless the cheese has holes, as Taz writes), but Shach holds that the measure is not one of time per se but one of texture.

In fact, both the views of Shach and Taz can be culled from examining the slightly divergent expressions in Darchei Moshe on Tur Yoreh Deah D 89 s.k. 2.

Adapted from “A Time to Eat and a Time to Wait” with permission from our partner OU Kosher, the largest kosher certification agency in America.