By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
BACKGROUND OF THE DISH
The origin of this halachic question takes place in Western Europe—more specifically in Rome, Italy, in the year 1914. An Italian woman, who is expecting, is constantly nauseated and cannot hold down any food. Her husband, a certain Mr. di Lellio, happens to be a master chef. He invents a dish that his wife will be able to hold down. Mrs. Di Lellio succeeds in holding down her food and her husband introduces the dish in his restaurant. The restaurant is a favorite of American tourists in Italy. And the new dish? A halachic question arises about this dish that will affect restaurants today, throughout the United States.
The dish Mr. di Lellio created was a pasta dish tossed with butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. By now most people will have guess that di Lellio’s first name is Alfredo. Our dish, of course, is called Fettuccine Alfredo.
Thirteen years pass.
Soon the dish gets discovered. Hollywood actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford marry and travel to Rome for their honeymoon in 1927. They bring the dish back home to Hollywood, and Fettuccine Alfredo becomes world-famous.
What is the halachic question?
Fettuccine Alfredo contains Parmesan cheese. Even the cheaper imitations of this brand of cheese that are made in the United States still qualify as a hard cheese. After consuming hard cheeses, it is the custom of most Ashkenazic Jews to wait six hours before we can consume meat. Regarding the consumption of Parmesan-laden pizza, it is clear that we must wait six hours.
Will this be true regarding fettuccine Alfredo too?
Let’s explore the background of this halachah. We will begin with the issue of consuming dairy after consuming meat.
DAIRY AFTER MEAT
The Talmud (Chullin 105a) tells us that Rav Chisda says: One who ate meat is forbidden from eating cheese. One who ate cheese [however] may eat meat. It further explains that Mar Ukvah differentiated his behavior from the more pious behavior of his father. He stated, “Although I would not eat cheese in the same meal as meat, I would eat cheese in the next meal.”
Most poskim conclude that unless one has a specific minhag otherwise, the time period meant by the term “the next meal” is six hours. There are two major opinions that deal with the reason for this six-hour timeframe of Mar Ukvah.
RASHI VERSUS RAMBAM
Rashi (Chullin 105a) explains that meat leaves a fatty type of residue in the mouth and throat of the meat consumer. This residue lasts a rather long time.
The Rambam (Hilchos Basar VeChalav 9:28) explains that there are particles of meat that can park themselves in between the teeth. We rule in accordance with both Rashi and the Rambam in regard to this issue.
MEAT AFTER DAIRY
Yes, but what about eating meat after one eats cheese? The Gemara seems to say that it is permitted to eat cheese after eating meat, without qualification. The Rama rules (Yoreh Deah 89:2) that it is good [and proper] to be stringent and follow the opinion to not eat meat, or even poultry, within six hours after consuming any hard cheese. This has become the accepted minhag of K’lal Yisrael, according to the Mishnah Berurah.
As the TaZ (89:4) explains, hard cheese leaves a fatty residue just as meat does. The P’ri Chadash 89:2 explains that pieces of cheese can park themselves in between the teeth just as pieces of meat do. What cheeses are included? Parmesan, cheddar, and Swiss are a few. Indeed, even if just a small amount of these cheeses are consumed, such as on top of a pizza or on top of a salad, one must wait the six-hour period.
What about our Fettuccine Alfredo? To answer this question, we must travel back even earlier than 1914. We travel to Eastern Europe, and it is 1906 – eight years prior to the pregnancy of Mrs. di Lellio.
The town is Sadigora, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is the seat of the famed Sadigora Chassidic dynasty (centered in Bnei Brak, Israel in modern times). The town’s av beis din, Rabbi Yehudah Leibish Landau, publishes a remarkable work, Yad Yehudah, a commentary on the kashrus section of Yoreh Deah.
Rabbi Landau writes (Yad Yehudah 89:30) that this stringency does not apply if the cheese is cooked into the food.
The Parmesan cheese is added to the recipe as part of the sauce before it is cooked. Thus, according to the Yad Yehudah, Fettuccine Alfredo is not considered a six hour cheese product. Thus , the fleishigs after the fettuccine Alfredo is safe.
RAV FEIVEL COHEN’S OPINION
But wait. Rav Feivel Cohen, shlita, in his Badei HaShulchan (Hilchos Basar VeChalav chapter 89, page 64 in the Biurim section) questions this ruling. He writes that the Yad Yehudah is of the opinion that hard cheese is forbidden because of the parking of pieces in between the teeth (like the aforementioned P’ri Chadash). There, it is quite reasonable to assume that the cheese will soften after it is cooked. But perhaps the real reason for hard cheese being forbidden is Rashi’s reason – that the taste of its fat remains in the mouth (like the aforementioned TaZ).
Rav Feivel Cohen concludes his thoughts with the words “tzarich iyun.”
So, what should Fettuccine Alfredo consumers do? The va’adei kashrus across the country seem to go with the opinion of the Yad Yehudah and do not necessitate even a warning label that it may require a waiting period of six hours.
There may be another factor, however, allowing a leniency. Here, the Parmesan cheese is mixed with other things in the sauce and then it is cooked. Perhaps the mixing, combined with the cooking, will somehow weaken the taste of that Parmesan cheese.
I am told, however, that when this rationale was presented to Rav Elyashiv zatzal, it was rejected. The mixing of hard cheeses with other cheese does not mitigate the cheese, according to Rav Elyashiv. If so, this may open up a Pandora’s box of other hard-cheese kashrus concerns. It seems that our orange cheeses (American cheese) get their color not just from orange food coloring added to a mixture of cheeses; there is bona fide cheddar cheese in there. If this quote of Rav Elyashiv is correct, then some very serious questions can arise.
This article is merely bringing up the issue. As in all areas of halachah, one must always consult one’s Rav as to how to conduct oneself. It is my understanding that many Rabbonim do follow the view of the Yad Yehudah especially when there are the other factors presented above.