Kosher Italian for Everyone

Last night, the Italian Embassy hosted “Kosher for Everyone,” a curious title, as I have no idea why “everyone” would ever want to keep kosher. Nonetheless, the Italian Trade Commission, along with the Embassy, sponsored the evening, subtitled “Growth Opportunities and Challenges for the Sales of Italian Specialty Foods in the United States Ethnic Market.” Moderated by gourmet food writer and part time David Crosby impersonator, Fred Plotkin, the panel consisted of Donato Grosser, President of Grosser and Associates, Ltd. Marketing & Management Consultants, the awesomely named Rabbi Umberto Piperno, and Thomas Gellert, the Principal of the Gellert Global Group of Companies.

After a brief introduction from the Italian ambassador to the United States, H.E. Giulio Terzi di Sant’ Agata (don’t even try), Mr. Plotkin took over and proceeded to make no less than three kitschy Jewish jokes in the span of five minutes (“it’s not kosher to use a cell phone in here,” “I see we have a minyan here tonight,” “you may ask, ‘why is this night different from all other nights?’”).  He mercifully surrendered the podium to Mr. Grosser, who explained the market for kosher products in the United States…completely in Italian.  I slinked (slank?) out to get my translator headset, while the audience of kosher food writers and Italian food distributors listened.  Next to speak was Rabbi Umberto Piperno, whose name you just have to say out loud with an Italian accent.  He gave a presentation, also in Italian, about the technical aspects of Jewish law that make something kosher.  Finally, Mr. Gallert, in English, gave a brief presentation about why people buy kosher, and who these people are.  Here are some of my random thoughts/takeaways/most surprising things I learned:

  • People seem to think that kosher food is better for you. Mr. Gallert cited statistics that showed 62% of kosher kustomers (too easy) purchase kosher items because of their “better” food quality, 51% for general healthfulness, and 34% for food safety.  While the Jewish laws governing meat, at least, are stricter than FDA regulations, kosher food overall is not any better for you than non-kosher food, nor is it of noticeable higher quality.  Anyone who’s ever had kosher cheese can attest to this.
  • The kosher food market is estimated at about $225 billion…mostly thanks to non-Jews. Only 10% of the kosher market are orthodox Jews, and a whopping 75% of kosher kustomers are not even Jewish at all.  Who are these non-Jews?  Mostly misinformed foodies, Seventh Day Adventists, and Muslims.
  • Jews like to keep kosher for Passover. Well, kinda, sorta, maybe.  Amazingly, 40% of all kosher food sales for the year take place around Passover time.
  • Italian Jews pioneered the use of cured goose. Jews of Italy have been curing goose as a kosher alternative to ham for centuries (I just made that up, but definitely for a long time).  Fun fact that might not be news to some of you: “prosciutto” does not necessarily mean “ham,” but can refer to any dried-cured meat.
  • “Kosher” does not mean “ethnic.” One of the speakers, I forget which, referred to kosher food as a new “ethnic food trend” among foodies.  I’ve seen something similar with the rise of the term “kosher style” to describe usually traditional ashkenazi fare. However, “kosher” is merely a standard, not a style, nor an ethnicity.  Almost any food of any ethnicity can have some kosher alternative or version.  I’m baffled as to how “kosher” has come to mean “ethnically Jewish” in our vernacular.
  • Free food rocks. Following the panel, attendees were treated to a kosher reception buffet by the local Dahan Caterers in the beautiful atrium of the embassy.  This event was free and apparently open to public, so if you didn’t come out, you should have read the GTJ calendar.

Go here to see pictures from the event.

 

Scott Weinberg is a GTJ staff member and regularly comments on kosher food.

 

10 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    Very informative and interesting Scottsdale! I’d love to see a kosher Italian or at least dairy place open up in dc and I think a lot of kosher-keeping Washingtonians whose only option at the moment is meat at Eli’s or JCC (ownes by Eli’s) share my sentiments.

    I do however feel I must dispel the myth that kosher cheese tastes any different. You probably have just had the misfortune of having some bad brands.

    Reply
  2. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    “The kosher food market is estimated at about $225 billion…mostly thanks to non-Jews. Only 10% of the kosher market are orthodox Jews, and a whopping 75% of kosher kustomers are not even Jewish at all. ”

    which means non-O jews make up 60% of the Jewish kosher market. Important.

    ” Who are these non-Jews? Mostly misinformed foodies, Seventh Day Adventists, and Muslims. ”

    I would think at least a few vegetarians and vegans, some of whom may be misinformed, but others are quite informed but find heckshers useful despite the areas of non overlap.

    “Jews like to keep kosher for Passover. Well, kinda, sorta, maybe. Amazingly, 40% of all kosher food sales for the year take place around Passover time. ”

    Presumably that is largely non-O Jews.

    “I’ve seen something similar with the rise of the term “kosher style” to describe usually traditional ashkenazi fare. However, “kosher” is merely a standard, not a style, nor an ethnicity. Almost any food of any ethnicity can have some kosher alternative or version. I’m baffled as to how “kosher” has come to mean “ethnically Jewish” in our vernacular. ”

    My understanding is that ‘kosher style’ means more than ashkenazi style – it specifically means deli that does NOT serve pork, does not serve meat and milk together, but does not use only kosher shected meat or heckshered ingredients. Apparently that usage is no longer consistent, if it ever was. Also there are “jewish styles” associated with certain specific food items – kosher pickles, kosher salami, and, sadly, kosher wine. There are certainly non religious markets for those styles, for whom a hecksher IS seen as a sign of a particular style.

    Reply
    • Scott
      Scott says:

      “which means non-O jews make up 60% of the Jewish kosher market. Important.”

      Your math is a little off. 75% non-Jews + 10% orthodox Jews = 85%, leaving about 15% for non-orthodox Jews.

      “I would think at least a few vegetarians and vegans, some of whom may be misinformed, but others are quite informed but find heckshers useful despite the areas of non overlap.”

      You would be correct, however, note my use of the qualifier “mostly.”

      “Presumably that is largely non-O Jews.”

      Correct.

      “My understanding is that ‘kosher style’ means more than ashkenazi style – it specifically means deli that does NOT serve pork, does not serve meat and milk together, but does not use only kosher shected meat or heckshered ingredients. Apparently that usage is no longer consistent, if it ever was. Also there are “jewish styles” associated with certain specific food items – kosher pickles, kosher salami, and, sadly, kosher wine. There are certainly non religious markets for those styles, for whom a hecksher IS seen as a sign of a particular style.”

      You’re correct that the usage really isn’t that consistent, but notice that deli meat, pickles, and the wine (I’ll assume you mean especially sweet wine like Maneshewitz) are all traditionally ashkenazi. Sephardim have a totally different, but still kosher, food tradition. “Kosher style” is a meaningless term.

      Reply
  3. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    to add – I know of gentile folks with wheat allergies who stock up on kosher le pesach products. and every year I hear about fans of cane sugar coca cola who look for kosher le pesach coke.

    Reply
  4. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    I find it a bit weird — impossible? — that only 10% of the kosher market is Jewish (point 2), yet 40% of sales are made around Passover, a Jewish holiday (point 3).

    Don’t you Scott?

    Reply
      • masortiman
        masortiman says:

        sorry, i should have read more closely, that is in fact the case

        ” a whopping 75% of kosher kustomers are not even Jewish at all”

        “Amazingly, 40% of all kosher food sales for the year take place around Passover time. ”

        Presumably jews (and a fortiori strictly observant Jews) purchase a larger amount of kosher food per person – presumably a “kosher kustomer” is anyone who seeks out heckshered food in any particular category.

        Reply
  5. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    “Your math is a little off. 75% non-Jews + 10% orthodox Jews = 85%, leaving about 15% for non-orthodox Jews.”

    I said 60% of the JEWISH kosher market. If 75% of the total kosher market is non jewish, then 25% of the kosher market is Jewish. 15 is 60% of 25. Ergo, 60% of the JEWISH kosher market is non-Orthodox (whom, I am guessing, have different at least subtly different motives than non Jewish buyers)

    Reply
  6. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_style

    I think the above is correct – its places like Katzs that set the style (and maybe invented the term?)

    I dont like it when places that do not follow even those standards use the term, but language evolves. The earlier usage did have meaning, even if it was somewhat convoluted.

    Reply

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