Sustainability at the Cheese Counter

There are many ways to bring more environmentally sustainable habits into your kitchen, like meal planning to reduce food waste, investing in reusable storage options, and buying from producers in your region. The best part is that these habits aren’t just greener—they typically mean getting more bang for your food buck and fresher, better-tasting groceries. 


Keeping sustainability in mind is a great way to shop for cheese, too: the traditional farming and production practices that great cheesemakers have used for millennia to create unique and delicious cheeses also place sustainability at the forefront. Here are some of the factors to take into consideration—environmental, ethical, economic—when buying and storing cheese.

how to buy cheese sustainably

Buying local 

Make it a point to prioritize small-scale cheesemakers, particularly those from your part of the country. Even if you live in a part of the U.S. where independent cheesemakers are few and far between, you can still support them—and enjoy great new cheeses—by purchasing directly from cheesemakers online or signing up for one of our American Artisan Collection cheese subscriptions. 

Prioritizing your local, independent cheesemakers supports them economically, which has the benefit of ensuring that you’ll have access to nutritious, high-quality artisan cheeses while keeping an important part of the region’s agricultural character alive. That support is amplified through strong farming communities. For example, in the Finger Lakes, Lively Run Dairy's crowdfunding campaign to purchase excess local milk from small farms to make cheese and donate it to local food banks has now become a statewide initiative. 

Buying local also ensures that those acres of pasture stay in production, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and absorbing rainfall to minimize runoff into streams and rivers. Which brings us to...

Rotational Grazing of Cows


Land stewardship

Ensuring that environmental resources on a property are conserved and protected for generations to come is central to running a sustainable dairy. Without healthy soils and clean water, dairy farmers can’t feed their animals, which depend on an abundance of fresh, diverse grasses to stay healthy and give delicious, nutritious milk. Rotational grazing, utilizing silvopasture, composting manure, and generating solar power are just a few of the ways that Miracle Springs Farm makes great goat cheeses sustainably in New York’s Hudson Valley.


In a way, small-scale dairy farming itself has an important place in ensuring a secure and diverse food supply. Dairy animals like cows, sheep, and goats turn plants that humans can’t eat—typically grown on land that doesn’t support crops like grain or vegetables—into a vital source of nutrition for humans. The more acres of sustainable farms we support, the better off we’ll be environmentally (and our rural economies will benefit, too).

Green Dirt Farm Cheese


Animal welfare

How the animals are cared for on that land is also a really important factor to consider when purchasing cheese. For any farmer worth supporting with your grocery dollars, the health and well-being of their animals is paramount. Uncomfortable, unhappy, and unhealthy animals don’t give good milk, after all. Some farmers have taken this practice one step further with independent certifications that give consumers an idea of their sustainable practices. 


The Animal Welfare Approved certification is exactly what it sounds like: a set of standards ensuring that livestock farmers are using the best practices for their animals. For dairy farms, the criteria include independent ownership, raising animals on pasture, choosing breeds well-suited to the climate and terrain, and twice-daily inspections to ensure animals are healthy and any issues are quickly addressed. 


While not all dairy farms have the resources to pay for AWA certification—and many, like Lively Run Dairy in the Finger Lakes, are already adhering to some or all of these best practices as a matter of course without it—the label can provide some reassurance to consumers that they’re supporting a humane, ethical operation. Cheesemakers with the AWA label include Green Dirt Farm in Missouri and Nettle Meadow Farm in upstate New York.

 

eco-friendly cheese storage


Using less packaging

Packaging is a tough one with cheese. On one hand, storing your cheese properly so that it will stay fresh and tasty the longest is important to reducing food waste. On the other, cheese paper—which has a plastic layer and a paper layer fused together to allow cheese to breathe while maintaining humidity—isn’t recyclable or compostable. 


There are a few ways you can store your cheese sustainably. The simplest is reusing the cheese paper your cheese was wrapped in when you purchased it from your neighborhood cheese shop or farmers’ market stand. Just try to keep it in one piece when you open that tasty little package and you can rewrap the cheese when you’re done snacking. If you can’t reuse the paper, another option that works particularly well for aged, firm cheeses is to wrap them in a reusable beeswax wrap. It will protect the cheese from the drying atmosphere in your fridge for weeks, and you can simply rewrap the cheese after each snacking session. When the cheese is gone, simply wash and dry the beeswax wrap before reusing. 


While the cheesemonger has to package your wedges in something to protect them, you can practice sustainability at home by storing your cheeses in the Cheese Grotto. Because it provides the ideal humidity level for your cheeses, it eliminates the need for wrapping cheese, and it helps them last even longer than cheese paper does. Since it makes it easy to take those wedges from the fridge to your counter to warm up before eating, the Grotto ensures that your cheesy investment will taste perfect, every time you take a bite. 


What are some of the ways you’ve found to make your cheese habit more sustainable? Let us know!

Alexandra Jones is a writer, cheesemonger, and food educator who has been working with farmers and artisans in Pennsylvania for the past eight years. She has written for publications like Food & Wine, USA Today, The Counter, Civil Eats, Thrillist, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and is one-third of the team behind Collective Creamery, a women-powered artisan cheese subscription based in southeast Pennsylvania. Alexandra leads cheese tastings and teaches cheesemaking classes in and around Philadelphia, and we are honored to have her on our team.

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