Farmer Hot Takes: Keeping Cheese Local at the Co-op
By Chris Kennedy
Have you ever had a life-changing cheese plate? A sample platter with all of the fixings: olives, bread, dips and fresh olive oil? Sign me up! Well at the Co-op, it’s not only possible, but easy. There is a range of local and sustainable cheese options to choose from.
Now before you get too excited, it’s important to note that cheese has a fairly large carbon footprint compared to the veggies or fruit you might pair with it. According to the NRDC (1), the US’s appetite for dairy has grown over the past decade, despite a national decline in beef and pork consumption. In terms of the industry’s carbon footprint, cheese emits 9.8 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every kg of food consumed. That’s compared to beef, which emits 26.5 kg and chicken which comes out to 5.1 kg of CO2.
But where do all those carbon emissions come from? Well, it takes quite a bit of energy to grow the feed for dairy cows. This includes a lot of water, fertilizer, and land used to cultivate feed crop. Part of the reason why the Amazon rainforest is being burned right now, for example, is to create new land for dairy cows and other animals in the livestock industry. The cows themselves also emit a substantial amount of methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are of concern. This is on top of the wastewater, antibiotics and pesticides often used in most conventional production processes. The other area of concern is the carbon footprint associated with the importing of cheese from places like Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. Cheese travels a large distance compared to some other foods, and contributes a larger share of carbon footprinting related to fossil fuels emitted in transport.
In New York state, there’s a long history of cheese and dairy production. Although you may think of Wisconsin when you think of cheese, throughout the 19th century, New York had the most creameries and dairy farmers in the country. As the state made investments elsewhere, and the switch from farmhouse to factory cheesemaking was popularized, New York’s local cheese production was dwarfed by states like California and Wisconsin. However over the past decade, New York state has become the lead in yogurt production, with over 8,000 workers employed by the dairy industry locally (2).
So what’s local in that refrigerator case at the Co-op? I found a few gems like the Chaseholm Farm’s Alpage Gruyere. Chaseholm Farm is located in Pine Plains, NY, and is run by siblings Sarah and Rory. As a certified organic and 100% grass-fed operation, they “work to create active and healthy soil microbiology so that soil can support healthy plants that can be grazed by cows.” (3) Another great cheese I found was Jake's Gouda Cheese, which is made in Deansboro, NY. Along with his wife Sylvia, Jake’s cheeses are handmade in the Dutch tradition. Each batch is turned and aged daily on pine planks for at least 60 days. Made from raw milk cheese, there is no high temperature pasteurization used.
If you’re looking for some goat cheese, then Lively Run Dairy Farm and Creamery in Interlaken, NY, might be a good choice. It’s one of the longest running goat dairies in the country (since 1982), and is run by Steve and Susanne Messmer, as well as their two sons, Pete and Dave. They use French Alpines and Swiss Saanens goats, who are fed a diet of local forage and feed. For other cheeses within a short distance to NYC, check out the Pennsylvania Noble Cheddar Cheese, too!
As the climate crisis intensifies, making intentional and sustainable choices about the dairy and meat products we consume daily is of immense importance. The Greene Hill Food Co-op not only offers a range of local and regional cheese options, but more importantly a relationship with farmers and ranchers who are committed to reducing their footprint on the land, caring for their livestock, and delivering a product that reflects a shared commitment toward equity and environmental justice. I hope you’ll give some of these cheese options a try and let us know if you discover any other gems in that dairy case!