The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
April 4, 2008

Dairy Wars: Battle of the Milk & Cheese

The last two posts were about coffee. This post is about what goes in the coffee. Well, half of it is. The other half is about cheese. Anyway, I need your input. I confess I haven’t been using my soy milk maker as regularly as I’d planned, opting for cow’s milk in my coffee. (The soy milk maker is a pain to clean, plus I keep forgetting to soak the beans at night.) My question is which cow’s milk is better? The Clover cow or the Straus cow?

Now, before you weigh in, I need to give you all the facts that I am aware of:

Straus Family Creamery is a local certified organic dairy farm in Marin County (not far from me) whose cows are grass-fed and gmo-free. You can read about their healthy farm practices here and their position on GMOs here. Packaging: Straus milk comes in heavy glass bottles that are returned to the store and reused (rather than recycled.) The drawback: a fat non-recyclable plastic cap on each bottle.

Clover Stornetta is a much bigger company, also located in Northern California, that produces both conventional and certified organic milk. According to their web site, they support family farms and are Free Farmed certified by the American Humane Association. (Anyone have info on that certification?) They say nothing about GMOs, and it looks like the cows are fed grains along with grass. (Grains being poor food for cows, according to Michael Pollan.)

Packaging: This is where the company show its responsiveness to customers. Click on the image to read the full letter from Clover (PDF file). Their milk used to come in paperboard gable-top cartons with a plastic cap and spout, just like soy milk does. And if you’ve been reading this blog a long time, you know that I wrote letters to both Wildwood and Silk soy milk companies asking them to give up the plastic fitments. We don’t need them. Well, others, including members of Green Sangha, wrote to Clover about that issue, and Clover listened! They have done away with the plastic spout and cap in response to requests from environmentally-concerned consumers. And I feel like I want to support them just for taking this step.

The paperboard container, of course, is coated with polyethylene, as are all cardboard milk cartons these days. The coating is not wax, folks. But here in Oakland, we can put these cartons in our green compost bins anyway. In fact, many people use cardboard milk cartons on the kitchen countertop to collect food scraps destined for the bin, and toss them all in together.

So what do you think? Is it a tie? Does one company appeal to you more than the other? If so, why? And which packaging (both containing plastic) do you think is more sustainable?

Next up: battle of the cheeses. Last week, I had a craving for cheese. I went to Trader Joe’s and was all set to give in and buy plastic-wrapped cheese, when low and behold, I spotted white cheddar cheese coated in wax without any plastic wrap around the outside! I have never seen this before in my area. Sure, we have plenty of waxed cheeses. But they are all covered with a layer of plastic, which has always seemed like overkill to me. You’re not going to eat the wax. Why put plastic wrap over it?

The cheese: Kerrygold Aged Cheddar. Notice on the web site, it looks like it’s wrapped in plastic. But this block is not. A new way of packaging? A deal with Trader Joe’s? I don’t know. But here’s the drawback: It’s from Ireland. Now, I have nothing against Ireland. Some of my best friends are Irish. But Dude, think of the fuel miles! Plus, it’s not even organic. But I’ve been looking for plastic-free cheese for so long, I couldn’t resist. I bought two blocks. It’s delicious. I plan to save the wax and melt it down into one black candle for casting spells against the evil-doers. Or just to entertain the kitties. Supervised, of course.

My local alternative is Springhill white cheddar from a Northern California farm one county away. It’s sold in stores around here and also at my farmer’s market every Sunday. But this cheese is always wrapped in thick plastic shrink wrap. And the blocks are small, so there’s a lot of plastic being used. Supposedly food wrap is no longer made from PVC, but who really knows what could leach into the cheese from the plastic?

So which do you think is better? The local plastic-wrapped cheese? Or the imported wax-coated but plastic-free cheese? And please don’t tell me to make my own mozzarella. I’ll probably do that someday. But this post is about cheddar. So let’s stick to the topic. Discuss!
 

30 comments
Mary K
Mary K

I know this is an old post... but I have my own plastic free milk solution. My husband and I recently joined a local food-buying club. People join together to buy local foods..... for example, we can buy a whole cow from a local farmer and split the meat, etc. Its an elaborate group, but anyhow..... One of the items we get through the group is local, raw, grass-fed milk (raw meaning not pasteurized). If that sounds crazy to you, do some research on it and check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. We order milk each week and it comes in reusable glass bottles. The screw on lids are plastic, but they get reused along with the glass bottles. Each week you bring your clean, empty bottle and get a new bottle of milk. It has been great! I am so glad to have weaned my husband off of milk in plastic jugs... milk that was undoubtedly much worse for him anyhow! If I can do this in Kentucky, surely you can do it in California!

K
K

Waay late, sorry I just discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago through No Impact Man.Do you have to always buy the same kind of milk? They both have a lot going for them, so why not buy one sometimes and the other other times? That's what I would do.I wish we had glass-bottled milk around here. There are two grass-fed dairies in the area (Berkshire County, Massachusetts), and they both package in plastic only. And one of them is raw milk only, and you can only get it at the farm, several miles from anywhere I ever go, so that's out for me. I emailed the other last night to ask if they would consider using glass.Yesterday I read in the NYT that plastic recycling is getting less profitable, and therefore happening less. I was already reducing plastic bag consumption, which has been very easy for me, but this news made me realize that I need to start down your path. Thanks for going first and lighting the way!

Alice
Alice

On the Milk front, I would choose the glass bottle. I have recently signed up to have millk delivered in glass bottles. They are topped with bits of aluminum foil which you press to take off. Its great that they haven't stopped milk deliveries in England!On the cheese front, I would choose Kerrygold, I know about the food miles, but isn't your real issue plastic? Also I often buy things from overseas because they just cannot or will not be produced over here. (Nothing to do with my boyfriend being Irish and insisting on their butter!)Also have you thought of buying the whole block of cheese? Keep it out in your pantry not the fridge where it is still nice and cool, and give away to your friends what you won't be able to eat. Actually maybe some of it could be frozen and last longer!

AnnMarie
AnnMarie

Did they give a reason why it has to be wrapped right away? I frequently (like almost 5 days a week) eat cheese for lunch. I cut it up at home and put it in a container to take to work. No plastic involved! And usually, the cheese at home has been unwrapped and placed in a container, too. The cheese never goes bad. the worst that happens is when I forget to put it in the fridge and it sits out for 5 hours and gets a little bit oily. It's still edible.Maybe you could bring a container from home and they'd put it in that. If they insist on plastic, you could have just one plastic container or baggie you used for it perhaps that you already owned.

eco 'burban mom
eco 'burban mom

Oh, a blog topic on cheese... I can barely focus. My husband once asked what one food would I take to a deserted island? CHEESE! Finding locally made cheese in plain 'ol wax would be heaven here in the 'burbs, but, along with glass bottled milk, you can rarely find either. However, we do have a cheese artesian in our "up north" region. For those fellow Michiganders, visit the Leelanau Cheese Company http://www.leelanaucheese.com/at the BlackStar Farms Winery in Suttons Bay. They not only make their own wine, but have won many awards for their European style cheeses - The Raclette is TO DIE FOR. They also have an onsite farmers market with organic fruits and veggies. So, it's a virtual one-stop! But, to agree with some of the other commenters - why not ask them to wrap it in wax or butcher's paper instead of the plastic. That would make it taste all the better! I'll try that this year!

jennconspiracy
jennconspiracy

DUDE!!!! What about the Cheese Board on Shattuck near Vine. I'm sure if you brought your own container, they'd be happy to put the cheese in it. And they have yummy pizza.I miss cheese.Cheeseboard Collective1504 Shattuckhttp://cheeseboardcollective.coop/

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi Green cat. Your question is the same one that many, many people have asked me. And believe me, if I had the option of a local cheesemonger that was willing to cut off slices and wrap in paper, I would be using it. Unfortunately, and as weird as it sounds, there is no local cheesemonger here that will wrap cheese in paper.Here's the thing: when you're talking about cheddar and other hard, aged cheeses (gruyere, gouda, for example) which are my favorite types of cheese, what I've been told is that as soon as they are cut, they have to be wrapped. So they will cut a piece of cheese for me plastic-free but then cut up and plastic-wrap all the rest of the round or block. It doesn't really save any plastic.Also, many blocks of cheese come in plastic wrap to begin with. Like the cheese at the Safeway deli counter, which I won't buy because it's factory-farmed cheese.We don't have any cheese vendor at our farmer's markets except Springhill, which brings plastic shrink-wrapped blocks with them to sell. I have asked about the possibility of having them bring me some unwrapped and was told they can't do that for one customer.I continue to search.

The Green Cat
The Green Cat

Beth, since cheese is so important to you, why aren't you using a local cheesemonger? My farmer's market has a cheese maker that will slice off however much cheese I want and wrap it in paper. (From what I understand from reading The Cheese Snob http://www.cheesesnob.com/, cheese should be allowed to breathe and so should not be wrapped in plastic anyway.) I also know that a number of "specialty" markets have cheese counters where I can buy cheese wrapped in just paper. Surely you have these options out there, no?

emily
emily

I'd go for the glass bottles, and whatever paper-wrapped cheese you can find.Quick story--if anyone appreciates it, it'll be you! I returned two glass milk bottles to the grocery store today, and as always, put them on the checkout belt with my food. First the boy asked me how much they were, then he charged me the $.85 per bottle! I said no, I'm returning them for the deposit, not buying. Turned out he actually didn't know what a deposit was--I had to explain the concept. He had no idea how to run it through the register, obviously. Neither did his supervisor. I was told that the glass bottles are "never" taken back at the register. Got sent to customer service, where they also thought I should deposit the bottles somewhere else. I spent 10 minutes on the whole circus, and in the express lane, too (received many annoyed looks). But eventually someone handed me the cash...

Tracey
Tracey

Oh!EMERGENCY milk recipe:Put four parts water, preferably hot, in a blender with one part nuts, any raw nuts will do. Blend the dickens out of them, then filtre. Use the sediment in a soup, and the creamy liquid in your coffee, tea, or baking...You can soak the nuts ahead of time,m as the more together reader commented, but I never plan to make emergency milk...

Tracey
Tracey

I'd:1) Talk to someone who is in a decision making capacity at your local cheese makers and tell them about your delemmna. Ask them if they could or would consider selling plastic free, perhaps in bulk, or in wax.2) Talk to someone in a decision making capacity at Trader Joe's or a local store about requesting plastic free local cheeses.I am a plastic-avoidant freegan, so I boycott packaged non dairy cheese and make my own from cashew butter and farmer's yeast.I talked about going plastic-free to my local organic cheeese people at the Holistic World Expo here. They were kinda "whatever". But yesterday, the guy at Loeb's grocery store told me more people should be like me when I asked for a cardboard box at the deli counter instead of plastic. And the ancient Portuguese churraqueira guy said they were going to ban plastic bags anyway when I declined one in favour of my chico bag. Onward!Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

organicneedle
organicneedle

MSN just had a blurb about how you should NOT buy milk in glass because many of the vitamins in it are light sensitive. Huh. According to them it reduces its health potency by as much as a 1/3. Isn't that a kick in the utter?

Mazzajo
Mazzajo

I think you're really lucky to not only have the choice to buy milk in glass, but also have the options of local and organic. Supporting even one of these is a good thing. For cheese, I go to a local deli and have a chunk cut from a big waxed wheel. But the cheese isn't particularly local. And I have to argue to make them wrap it only in paper.I think we can send ourselves insane trying to calculate the net impact of every food item. Maybe we should just relax and enjoy the cheese and we'd have more energy to reduce our environmental impact in more substantial ways...

Rosa
Rosa

I'm going to join the choir and say if you're eating cow products, the cows should be on grass. It reduces the carbon footprint quite a bit, and reduces the chance of water contamination too. The plastic cap is an issue, though :(

terrible person
terrible person

Here is the article from the Berkeley Daily Planet on the new Peet's in BART and the cups they'll be using.

Green Bean
Green Bean

Okay, I've done a lot of thinking on this issue. I mean ALOT and I've come to a place that I feel good about. MILK: Between those two options, I'd choose Strauss for the returnable bottle and also Melinda from Elements in Time visited the Clover farm and said it was awful (see comments on link above).For me, I've found a better way - much like what terrible person suggested: I host a buying club that delivers local raw milk (Claravale) in glass bottles returnable to Whole Foods. The guy who set everything up for the buying club lives in Berkeley so you might be able to find a drop off in Oakland or nearby. They also do grassfed beef, pastured pork, pastured eggs, pastured lamb and handmade raw organic cheese, which leads me toCHEESE: I buy cheese through my buying club. Some of the bigger sizes come wrapped in wax without plastic. I use those and then buy the occasional Spring Hill fun flavor to supplement. The cheese from the buying club is from Bravo Farms (in Visalia) so it is further than Petaluma where Spring Hill is located) but I consider the trade offs worth it.Now most of the things I reference will only really help you if you are in the Bay Area BUT the overarching point is to think outside the industrial food chain. Is there a local dairy farm? Might they be willing to use reusable glass bottles (there are FDA special requirements for these so many are not)? If so, can you put together a group that will buy the milk on a regular basis? Can you find someone interested in delivering the milk? Same thing goes for cheese, pastured eggs, grassfed meat, and so on.The guy who put together our buying club is a real entrepeuner and is adding local farmers and their products daily.

Matt & Kari
Matt & Kari

The milk question is tough because while I agree that grass fed & local is best, I do really appreciate the fact that Clover listened to its customers. I say Kerrygold for the cheese. Not only is this product in wax, they are one of the few companies to wrap their butter in foil - much better than some of the other options!

terrible person
terrible person

It's too bad they don't have deliveries of milk in bottles anymore. Then I could worry about you and the milkman. I heard someone on a radio call-in show about organic products protesting the use of the term "conventional" as the opposite of "organic". (A "retronym", they call it, a term never needed until a new type became common - "acoustic guitar" for what we used to just call a "guitar", before Les Pauls, or in general, "adjective X", for what we used to just call "X" because it was the only kind of X that existed.) "Conventional" tends to get used when there's no other term, or when you need a catch-all for many types ("conventional weapons" for "non-nuclear, non-chemical, non-biological"), but the caller's point was that "conventional", though many of us like to defy convention, does suggest a certain normality or naturalness, when the way most milk is produced, using antibiotics, grain feed, and animal confinement, is anything but normal or natural. Better to use a term like "industrial" or "factory farmed", which makes the hearer think about the product's actual origins.On yesterday's topic, coffee, I saw in the Berkeley Daily Planet, a local paper, that the coffee chain Peet's (big around here) is going to place a store in a BART (our local rapid transit -- I have to remember how global, how galactic, is FPF's reach!) in partnership with Metropolitan Coffee and Concession. Wait, say you Bayareans, I thought you couldn't consume food or beverages on BART! You can't. But MC&C, according to the article, which isn't online yet, will sell coffee in "specially designed no-spill thermal-plastic sippy cup[s]", subsidized by advertising, and each time you use your cup instead of a new paper one, you get ten cents off your coffee. So BART will allow you to CARRY these onto platforms and trains, but can you DRINK from them there? I couldn't tell. Nor could I tell quite what these cups are made of; MC&C doesn't seem to have a Website. But putting hot beverages in any kind of plastic is not a great idea, Beth has shown us, and many children's sippy cups, of course, are full of pthalates, though I guess that's been banned in California, or maybe just SF -- or is that toys? I must look this up. Maybe if the cups are not intended for CHILDREN, but rather coffee-drinking adults, they can contain evil chemicals. Oh, and there's someone at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market (another local reference) who sells "Nutmoos", milk made from nuts. In glass bottles, I think.Dismiss me, enough.

Robj98168
Robj98168

Me voted for the Glass container. I used to buy local milk in glass bottles until the store switched hands and the first thing they did was get rid of the glass bottled milk (bastards).Cheese is a qaundry to me...I know od only one store in my area to have a cheese department with a "cheese butcher" and he was very offended when I asked for cheese wrapped in paper.I like the idea of melting the wax into candles~your kitties will be so entertained while wearing thier coats made from socks!

lauren
lauren

I usually buy Clover, but I just tried Strauss this week and loved it. I also had the same compost vs. reuse dilemma in mind. Thanks for helping me work through it with your post and these comments :) I'm staying with Strauss.

christy b
christy b

If you really want to consider a small operation, grass fed, paddock feeding (rotating feeding areas, which reduce methane gas), glass bottles, and raw to boot!:http://claravaledairy.com/

ashley
ashley

I vote for the glass bottle milk, too. I just wish it wasn't so expensive. (My four kids can go through milk pretty fast.) I need to try making almond milk!

Sara
Sara

Hi! I have a comment about the cheese question. This comment unfortunately doesn't apply to anyone outside of the Bay Area, but since I see you're in Oakland, I have to recommend the Cheese Board (located in the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley). Depending where you are in Oakland, you may not want to come all the time, but you could potentially do a run at least on occasion for plastic-free cheese. This is a co-op cheese shop that has lots and lots of cheeses for sale (probably over 100, I would guess). The cheese sellers are extremely knowledgeable and would be able to point you in the direction of local/local-ish cheeses as well as picking out something that's in your taste...plus, you always get to try before you buy! They sometimes wrap cheese in plastic and sometimes in paper, but since you're there you could certainly ask for paper wrapping (I think they mostly use paper for hard and plastic for soft cheeses, but they are very buyer-friendly.) They also have some goat cheeses that are just in the rind and not wrapped at all. Hope this helps!

arduous
arduous

It's a tough call. Honestly, I would probably go with Strauss mostly because I think it's better to support smaller businesses. And reusable glass bottles are better than compostable cartons. (Reduce, reuse, recycle in that order, right?)As for the cheese, I think you can go with the Kerrygold. For one, Kerrygold is like magic. And I'm with Orgie about cheese being art. But if you can find a farmers market cheese that is also amazing, and you can convince them to package in paper or wax, that would be even better!

Grant
Grant

As for the cheese, I would go with the wax-coated-but-far-away option. There are low- or no-impact ways of transporting items (electric cars, sail assisted ships), but there is no such thing as low impact plastic.

jennconspiracy
jennconspiracy

I vote for no cow's milk at all - livestock cattle they a significant portion of greenhouse gases and if we discontinued raising cattle for food production (switching to a more plant-based diet, of course) we'd do more for the environment than any single action.Though I am lazy and usually buy Pacific foods almond milk, I also make almond and cashew milk. It's way easier than making soy milk - soak the almonds for an hour or two, pulverize in the blender and filter. 1 cup of soaked almonds turns out a whole blender-ful of almond milk. It's not pasteurized so you have to eat it before it goes off -- half a cup of almonds results in a more manageable quantity of almond milk.You can save the almond meal for using in cookies, it's basically fiber since most of the nutrients are washed out into the almond milk in the process (or so they say!).

maryann
maryann

I'd have to vote for local small farm, I don't like the big factory farms local or not. The cheese, I'd go with which tastes better, you can't substitute a good cheese.Sometimes you need to consider the whole instead of the parts.

gsgranola
gsgranola

I agree with burbanmom on the milk. I'm also very jealous because I have not been able to find glass bottled milk out here in Jersey. As for the cheese, have you approached the cheese makers at the farmer's market about their packaging. At our seasonal farmer's market there is usually a cheese guy and he brings the cheese in huge chunks and cuts off how much you want. So then you can just bring your own container and don't have to worry about the plastic shrink warp. Maybe you could suggest that to them.Please check out my blog at www.gardenstategranola.com :)

organicneedle
organicneedle

I would lean towards the glass too...for all that good junk. (I'll let burban do the thinking on that one this morning.)Now for the cheese. Cheese is on my list of foods that are worth the miles. Here's the deal. Cheese and wine making falls under the category of art to me. Real makers should be respected and supported for the quality of their products. Although Americans do many things well...Europe still holds a lot of secrets about the good stuff. (Yes...I have had good American cheeses too...but keep your hands of my extra stinky unpasteurized brie and we'll all get along just fine.) Can you tell I like cheese & wine?

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

I don't know about the cheese but my thoughts on the milk are thus:I choose Strauss. It sounds like it is run by a less industrialized corporation. It is smaller and more local to you and, since milk is pretty heavy (more than 8 pounds per gallon) the transportation of the product over a further distance would greatly increase the pollution from, and reliance on, petroleum.The plastic lining in the carton scares me. It can't break down into an organic material with the rest of the compost, so it's almost like it's contaminating the compost. Unless they somehow manage to magically remove it (doubtful). Depending on where that compost is used, it could be releasing that plastic lining directly in the environment, to be consumed in our food chain. Better to see the single top from the glass bottle end up in the landfill where it belongs (IMHO).The grass-fed, gmo-free thing would be the straw (hahaha) that breaks the cow's back on this one. Feeding cows grain doesn't just make for yucky cows and milk, it makes for dirty, polluting monoculture and increases the cost of grains worldwide. This produces starving masses who can no longer afford basic grains as a food staple. How's that for a guilt-trip?Also? Glass bottled milk just tastes better!OK, I know someone will tell me I'm wrong on several counts here... and it's quite possible I am. Will be interested to see what others think.