The coronavirus crisis and its accompanying lockdowns have given many of us a renewed appreciation of the pleasures of mail-order dining. Unable to regularly leave home to shop or eat out, many Americans have begun buying more of their food online. The small businesses that fulfill many of these orders are even more essential for those consumers with special dietary needs, including kosher ones. But often, those customers don’t know what is available and how to get it.
This piece aims to fix that.
In advance of the High Holidays, I set out to identify some of the best mail-order kosher businesses that most of us have probably never heard of—everything from a kosher bacon supplier in California to a vegan chocolatier in New Jersey. I sampled countless novelty kosher products, including eating several pounds of herring. (Don’t say I never did anything for you, Tablet readers.) I also talked to the owners of these businesses to find out how the coronavirus has affected them, and how consumers can best support their work in this difficult time.
Naturally, the guide below is not exhaustive, merely suggestive, of all the options on offer. It does not include more general supermarket outlets, places that don’t ship everywhere in the country, or those covered in past Tablet pieces. Given that we are in this new reality for the long haul, the goal was instead to highlight items that could just as easily be stored on a shelf, in the fridge, or in the freezer, as they could be eaten out of the box. From dairy and fish to meats and jerky to desserts and treats, there should be something here for everyone.
DAIRY & FISH
The Rebbe’s Choice
Many people think they don’t like herring. For much of my childhood, I was one of them. I just could not see the attraction of oversalted slimy fish when there were so many better options at our shul’s kiddush. But as it turns out, I didn’t really dislike herring. I disliked bad herring. Thankfully, The Rebbe’s Choice is to store-bought herring what homemade gefilte fish is to the jelly-encased stuff in the jar. To start with, there’s the dizzying array of flavors. I tried their Kiddush sampler pack, which includes six kinds of herring, among other goodies. For traditionalists, there’s the classic Garlic Schmaltz herring. Too salty? You’ll like the Sweet Onion. I personally loved the Honey Mustard Sriracha, though if you’re looking for a crowd-pleaser, you can’t go wrong with the Everything Bagel Spice Herring and Lox mix, which should win over even the most ardent herring skeptics. (The pack also comes with two brands of lox, and I was particularly impressed with their pastrami smoked salmon.) Of course, all good herring deserves a good cracker to go with it, and The Rebbe’s Choice has that covered as well with their delicious flatbread kichel. The package even comes with mint candies to cleanse your palate when you’re through.
Block and Wedge
When I was a kid, it was near impossible to get high-quality kosher cheese. The American market was monopolized by a handful of kosher producers that restricted themselves to bland varieties of American, cheddar, and mozzarella. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, and nowhere is that more evident than at Block and Wedge, a clearinghouse for kosher cheese for every occasion, mostly produced by cheesemonger Brent Delman, aka “The Cheese Guy.” Unlike most commercial cheeses, these are fully vegetarian, using plant-based and microbial substitutes for the traditional animal rennet. Not that you can tell from the taste. At Block and Wedge, you can find sharp aged cheddars, rich Tilsit, and excellent Gruyere, as well as specialty goat and sheep milk cheeses, sourced from America, Italy, and even New Zealand. I have yet to find the dish that’s not improved by their Chipotle Cheddar or Havarti, though be warned that the Ghost Pepper Cheddar is not for the faint of heart!
Aufschnitt Beef Jerky
Like the kosher cheese industry, the kosher beef jerky industry barely existed when I was growing up. There was no kosher equivalent of Slim Jims or the more upscale jerky varieties that beckoned to us from store shelves. Fast-forward to 2015, and Aufschnitt stepped into the void. The project of scions of Baltimore’s famous Wasserman & Lemberger kosher butchery, the small-batch brand quickly established itself as the address for kosher beef jerky. In their online store, you can find beef/chicken sticks in five varieties, as well as beef bars and turkey jerky. But their calling card is their four flagship flavors of beef jerky: Original, BBQ, Teriyaki, and Spicy. While many jerky manufacturers add lots of sugar to their product—which not only augments the taste, but drives up the weight of the jerky, enabling them to sell less for more—Aufschnitt’s approach is more minimalist, making their product high on flavor but low on calories (60-70 per pack), and a surprisingly healthful and filling snack.
I Want Romanian
When it comes to kosher meat establishments, Chicago’s Romanian Kosher Sausage Company is legendary. Founded in 1957, its products are so prized that when doing research for this piece, I came across people who simply order hundreds of Romanian sausages, throw them in the freezer, and use them as a year’s supply. This bulk purchasing is necessary because Romanian itself only ships most foods wholesale. Or they did, until I Want Romanian entered the scene. The site is exactly what it sounds like. Founded by local entrepreneur Jacob Willner, it’s an online store that acts as a middleman to bring Romanian’s mouthwatering array of meats to your doorstep, from Italian sausages to steaks to deli. Though tempting, it would have been unwise for me to sample all of their offerings for this piece, but I did try their salami, smoky beef snacks, and gargantuan garlic sausage, and was blown away. (Just fitting the latter into a pot to simmer and cook was a project in its own right, but well worth it—one of the best kosher sausages I’ve ever had.) I’ll be ordering more for Rosh Hashanah, and now you can, too.
The Bacon Guys
Two words for you: bacon challah. While that might sound like an oxymoron in the kosher business, it’s actually an excellent offering from The Bacon Guys, a Beverly Hills-based outlet that specializes in kosher bacon-style cuts of beef and lamb. The founders of the company started out making these meats as appetizers at the local La Gondola kosher restaurant, and when they realized that they had a hit on their hands, they went independent with it. Today, their products are shipped in small packages with flavors like “candied sriracha beef bacon,” “truffle bacon,” “Cajun BBQ bacon,” “caramel sea salt and roasted pecan bacon” and “chocolate beef bacon,” and they do not disappoint. I tried their most popular offering, the simple “candy beef bacon” variety, and the only complaint we had was that there wasn’t more of it. Of course, perhaps their most unique product is the aforementioned pull-apart bacon challah, a rich bread stuffed with little bits of seasoned meat. It lives up to its billing, but be warned that it’s a meal in its own right, not a mere side dish, so plan accordingly!
DESSERTS & TREATS
Miriam Gitelman is not your typical Jewish dessert chef. In fact, until recently, she wasn’t a chef at all. She spent two decades in the technology sector, including running her own digital agency and co-founding an e-commerce subscription company. But five years ago, she began pursuing a lifelong dream by attending culinary school. And in 2018, she launched Coco Jolie, a handmade artisanal chocolate company whose products are all organic, fair trade, vegan, and certified kosher. The results, as you can see in the photo atop this article, are frankly stunning. The truffles look less like chocolates than like little gemstones. And they taste as good as they look, with flavors ranging from raspberry ganache to cookie butter. Other delicious offerings include a superb strawberry chocolate popcorn, chocolate-covered orange peels, and dark chocolate bars in multiple varieties. I was particularly partial to the Aloha Bar, and its mix of mango, pineapple, and coconut. While COVID-19 has impacted its storefront location in Englewood, New Jersey, fortunately for the rest of us, Coco Jolie continues to ship all of its products across the nation.
Adina’s Designer Cookies
Adina Berkowitz’s handcrafted customized cookies look so good that I assumed that they couldn’t possibly taste good. I was wrong. Working from her kitchen in Skokie, Illinois, as a one-woman business and sole source of income, Berkowitz designs beautiful, bespoke cookies for birthday parties, weddings, events, and other personal occasions, incorporating pretty much anything you can imagine—from names to pictures—into her craft. You can see the remarkable results on her Instagram page. (I imagine they’d make great place cards for a creative Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot gathering.) Her operation almost didn’t survive the coronavirus, however. Like many small business owners, Berkowitz was hit hard by the many event cancellations it caused, nearly cratering her sales. But she found a way to adapt to the new circumstances: DIY cookie design kits. “I figured I would make one, post a pic on both Instagram and Facebook and see what happens,” she told me. “Within minutes, my phone exploded! People were going nuts for them. After the first day, [I] had a wait list that was a week long, and I was cranking out about 30 kits a day for the first few weeks.” It turned out they were a hit as a home project, and also for Zoom birthday parties. Interested individuals can place their own orders directly by writing to [email protected]. Berkowitz cooks out of her own kitchen, as well as one certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, so if one has a preference, just be sure to specify it.
Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz first became friends on the kindergarten playground, at which time they bonded over his mother’s brownies. In 1992, they co-founded the Arizona-based mail-order business Fairytale Brownies and never looked back. Today, their fully kosher product line includes flavors and sizes for any palate, from bite-size Magic Morsels, to snack-size Fairytale Sprites, to the massive titular Fairytale Brownies. It’s impossible to pick a favorite flavor, as each one is so perfectly balanced, but I enjoyed the Original, Cream Cheese, Espresso, Mint, Raspberry Swirl, Pecan, Caramel, Walnut, and Toffee Crunch flavors—which just happen to be all the ones I tried. The outlet also offers a selection of cookies and blondies, for those who don’t just want a chocolate fix. Everything comes in a beautifully arrayed box that is perfect for holiday gift-giving. And for those who like to stockpile their treats, the brownies last seven days on the shelf, 30 in the fridge, and six months in the freezer, though as the packaging notes, “if they aren’t devoured by then, we’re impressed.”