“May I have a steak well done, please, and a fruit cocktail?” is a request that is commonly heard in a restaurant. It’s very rare to hear someone in a restaurant say, “Waiter, I’d like an order of rotten fruit, please, and do you have any steak that causes botulism?”
As a traveling RFR (rabbinic field representative) for more years than I care to admit to, one quickly learns that regardless of how carefully we plan our days, flexibility is the key to success.
In order to get to Indospice, a vanilla bean export company deep in the jungles of Bondowasa Java, Indonesia, Rabbi Moshe Machuca arrives at a local airport, drives up, down, and around steep mountains, past fishing villages, thatched huts, caribou, monkeys, and exotic birds for five difficult, but colorful, hours until he reaches the plant. There he watches as workers at Indospice scald vanilla beans in vats of boiling water and set them in the sun for three to four weeks. The process, called curing, initiates a series of biochemical events within the vanilla bean that yields one of the most cherished, and expensive, flavors in the world: natural vanilla.
Founded in 1797, The Birkett Mills is the oldest and one of the primary millers of buckwheat in America. The company is located in Penn Yan, New York, and has been family owned for over 200 years. Originally the mill was water powered and it generated electricity for both milling of grain, but also for the village of Penn Yan until the village had its own source of electricity. The town was founded by Connecticut Yankees and Pennsylvania Dutch and thus got its name from both of these groups.
Stonyfield Farm, celebrating its 27th year, is the world’s leading organic yogurt company. Its all- natural and certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk, cultured soy, frozen yogurt and ice cream are distributed nationally. The company advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet. All of Stonyfield’s products are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union – a certification that symbolizes purity and quality, two attributes which are at the core of the company’s mission. Stonyfield chose to be certified by the OU because of the organization’s international respect — for being known to hold products to the highest standard possible.
Yogurt was first produced thousands of years ago. Dairy history and legend indicate that yogurt originated in Iran or Turkey. One story has it that an ancient Turk was carrying milk in his goatskin for some time, whereupon he noticed that the substance had developed into a thick, creamy mass (precipitated by the bacteria in the goatskin and the warm temperature).This new product was referred to as ‘yogurut’.
Rudolf Jelínek is a joint stock company engaged in the production of alcoholic beverages and currently ranks among the major producers of fruit brandy in the world. The company was founded in 1894 and follows a 400–year-old tradition of slivovitz-making in Walachia, Czech Republic.
My grandfather was what they call in the United States a “revenooer.” He was the excise man for the Scotch whisky distilleries in Campbeltown, a little town on the west coast of Scotland. I was born there and still vacation there. A little town now, but in its heyday it had more than 30 distilleries. There was a distillery/maltings not far away from our house, and as a little boy I routinely played in the maltings with the cats who “lived” in the barley. I retained an interest in Scotch whisky, including drinking it when I was old enough, and was thrilled when Rabbi Safran asked me to audit some distilleries which wanted OU kosher certification on their single malt whiskies. One of them was only a few miles over the water from my vacation cottage!
If you would have suggested to an observant Jew that in the earliest part of the 21st century our ancient diet would become one of the hottest new food trends and that the kosher food market would be amongst the fastest growing food sectors in America and Europe, you would surely have been rewarded with a bemused look worthy of an encounter with an inhabitant of the wistful land of Chelm, inhabited by a population of sweet, confused citizens who can make neither heads nor tails of anything.
Where would you go if you wanted to learn the fine art of kashrut from experts, combining studies of the laws of kosher with the hands-on experiences that only those experts can provide? For dozens of rabbis and advanced rabbinical students this summer, the answer was the Orthodox Union.