Buying cheese without plastic has always been problematic because even if I take my own container to the cheese counter, the larger wheels or blocks from which the cheese is sliced generally come shrink-wrapped in plastic. So I’m always on the lookout for aged cheeses without plastic packaging, and last month I found a local Bay Area cheese without any wrapping or coating at all: Bellwether Farms Carmody. It’s made from Jersey cow’s milk and vegetable rennet. And it’s better than the 12 pound wheel of beeswax-coated hard cheese I splurged on in 2009 because it’s local, and full wheels are sold utterly naked.
This is what Bellwether Farms Carmody looks like sliced:
No wax coating and no plastic. (Note: the wax coating on most cheeses is paraffin, a petroleum product.) What you see on the outside is the bare rind. But of course, that’s only if you buy a whole wheel. Cut portions of cheese come wrapped in plastic by the cheese shop or deli. I bought my full wheel at the Market Hall Pasta Shop cheese counter in Oakland.
I wrote to the folks at Bellwether Farms to find out why they sell their cheese without any plastic or coating. Lenny replied:
Plastic does effect the flavor of cheese when stored in it for an extended period of time and even more so when it is cut. Because we have a dry, natural rind we have the option to sell it in paper which is what we prefer.
Plastic is the worst thing for cheese, but the market demands that retailers do it to sell the cheese. Customers want to see the cheese with all it’s oooiness (not a real word) and color. That is part of the sell. The gov’t won’t let us sit our cheese out like they do in Europe fearing it will cause some sort of widespread illness.
To eat the cheese:
We cut off the rind as we would with most aged cheeses. A knife, slicer, and even a vegetable peeler work fine.
Local artisan cheeses are expensive, and this cheese is no exception, which means I want to eat it sparingly and make it last a while. So how do you keep cheese fresh without plastic?
Olive Oil Helps Preserve Cut Side of Cheese
WikiHow.com has these instructions for keeping cheese fresh without plastic wrap, which I discovered back in 2009:
1) Rub the cut face of the cheese with olive, canola, or other vegetable oil.
2) Store cheese in the refrigerator in an airtight container. The article suggests keeping paper towels in the container with the cheese, but I wrap mine in a washable tea towel. Life Without Plastic has some great options for airtight stainless steel and glass containers.
3) If mold starts to form, it will consume the oil and not the cheese; simply wipe it off, or rinse in tepid water. Dry, rub with fresh oil and store as above. (My cheese hasn’t grown any mold so far, and I’ve had this wheel for almost a month, but I slice a little bit to eat every day.)
Note: Lenny from Bellwether Farms says he recommends wrapping the cheese in butcher paper or parchment paper (which is silicone-coated paper) inside a container in the refrigerator, and although he hasn’t tried it, he is skeptical of the olive oil method. So far, my method works for me, and I prefer a cloth towel to disposable paper.
Share with Friends
If you can’t keep a whole wheel of cheese fresh long enough to finish it, consider buying with friends. Invest in a whole wheel together and cut it into shares.
Local Plastic-free Cheeses in Your Area?
Have you been able to find plastic-free cheese where you live? Or local cheese-mongers who will slice you cheese right from the unwrapped block? Please share what you know. Ordering cheese through the mail will not reduce packaging waste. In fact, it requires more packaging to keep the cheese cool in transit, so talking to your local cheese shops and cheesemakers is the best option for finding cheese without plastic.