You love hosting: the friends, the laughter, the food, the compliments. As a purveyor of all things delicious, you decide to host a wine and cheese night with your nearest and dearest. Time to go shopping. Your eyes skim the dairy shelves and marvel at the selection. Here is where your environmental ethics come into play.
A report published last week by Environmental Working Group indicated that cheese consumption is surprisingly costly to the climate. How can cheese cause global warming, you might ask. Researchers did a comprehensive analysis of common foods, considering the greenhouse gas emissions generated before and after the food leaves the farm, as well as the pesticides and fertilizers used to produce them. Cheese generates the third-highest emissions of any food, behind only lamb and beef.
The reason being, cheese shares many of the same impacts of meat, since its made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. (The Environmental Working Group analysis considered only cow's milk cheese, but at least one other study found goat and cow's milk cheeses on par, and sheep's milk cheese worse.) Emissions come from the use of fertilizers and pesticides both derived from fossil fuels to grow feed, from the gas produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals, and from their manure. Off the farm, refrigeration and shipping add to cheese's carbon footprint, but two-thirds of the emissions happen on the farm. (While air-shipped imported cheese creates almost 50% more emissions than domestic cheeses, fortunately most imported cheese arrives by ocean freighter, with a marginal impact on emissions.)
Its no wonder that dairy products are in one of the smallest groups in the recommended food pyramid (2-3 suggested daily servings). To stay healthy and reduce the impact of your diet, Environmental Working Group recommends cutting cheese out of your meals, at least one day a week. (Americans ate an average of about 30 pounds of cheese per person in 2008, 50% more than in 1975, according to the USDA. That's more than an ounce a day.) Also choose less-dense soft cheeses like cottage cheese, over dense, hard cheeses like cheddar; the less dense the cheese, the less milk was used to produce it. Finally, look for locally made cheeses from organic farms and grass-fed pastured animals.
Cesar Olivares, fromager at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, said it all depends on the source. "If the farm can minimize its footprint by reducing waste, treating its animals well, and implementing sustainable practices, the cheese will be green," Olivares said. His company strives to buy only from sustainable suppliers that manage small herds of pasture-raised animals, grow their own feed, and compost animal waste to return nutrients to the soil.
Olivares recommends visiting the local farmers market for fresh cheese. Talk to the maker and find out where the cheese came from and how it was made. When browsing through your specialty cheese shop, pay attention to labels.
Make your wine and cheese night more eco-friendly by pairing them with seasonal fruits and sustainable wines. Try these suggestions:
This artisanal farmstead goat cheese has a creamy and lemony texture. Use it any recipe that calls for fresh goat cheese, or pair it with honey or fresh fruit.
Source: Prairie Fruits Farm, Champagne, Ill.
Cost: 10 per 6-ounce tub at pastoralartisan.com.
Wine Pairing: Hall Sauvignon Blanc, made with organic grapes grown in the Napa Valley of California ($22 at hallwines.com).
Named the Best Cheese in America by the American Cheese Society, this cow's milk gruyere is nutty, earthy and rich.
Source: Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville, Wisc.
Cost: $26 per pound at pastoralartisan.com.
Fruit Pairing: Sliced pears
Wine Pairing: Domaine Filliatreau cabernet franc, an organic red from the Loire Valley in France ($17 at wine.com).
The fresh milk from a herd of 70 goats gives this soft-ripened organic cheese a flavor that is grassy, earthy and bright.
Source: Shadow Brook Farm's Dutch Girl Creamery, Lincoln, Neb.
Cost: $28 per pound at pastoralartisan.com.
Fruit Pairing: Quince & Apple strawberry rosemary preserves ($10 per 6-ounce jar at pastoralartisan.com)
Wine Pairing: Elk Cove Pinot Gris, a sustainable white from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. ($17 at wine.com)
This firm biodynamic cows milk cheese is parmesan-like with a sweet, nutty flavor that ages well.
Source: Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent, N.Y.
Cost: $14-17 per pound
Fruit Pairing: Peach or nectarine fruit chutney
Wine Pairing: Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône, Brézème, a biodynamic red from the Rhone Valley in France ($22 at wines.com).
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