Monday, August 15, 2011

Minimizing the Impact of Your Cheese
This article "Is cheese killing the planet?" in Grist last week raised the issue of cheese production’s carbon footprint.  Many of us know that meats, especially beef and lamb have the highest carbon footprints on the planet.  A huge amount of energy is required to grow the food and supply the water for an animal to mature, and the green house gas emissions from livestock are greater than those produced by the entire transport sector. 
However, the number three worst product in terms of green house gas emissions (after beef and lamb) is cheese.  The carbon footprint is higher than other sources of meat and considerably higher than milk or yogurt.  The reason for this high carbon footprint is that a lot of milk is required to make cheese and the same input carbon footprint and methane outputs are associated with the production.
Other than reducing the amount of cheese you eat, the next best change to make is where your cheese is from.  “Well-managed, grass-fed systems generate far fewer environmental impacts, and they’re certainly a more ethical way to raise animals . . .”  Dairy farms have high environmental values despite their carbon emissions, when sustainably operated, they require fewer chemicals and pesticides, reduce water pollution, can fertilize soil, leave habitat for birds and small animals, and occupy land that would probably be converted to housing developments if cows didn’t live there (especially in Connecticut). 
Also, lower-fat less dense cheese have lower GHG emissions because when some fat is removed it is used to make butter reducing the inputs of dairy into the cheese without wasting dairy.  Younger cheese is generally considered more energy-efficient.  Feta, chevre, brie, camembert and mozzarella are considered “greener” cheese because they don’t require a lot of aging or processing. 
For local cheese sources (here in Connecticut) think about the following CT NOFA member farms:
Holbrook Farm
And for local milk:
The Farmer’s Cow (not a farm, but a Connecticut dairy coop that is probably available in your supermarket). 

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