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March 15, 2011

How to Buy and Keep Cheese Fresh Without Plastic

 

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:

Bellwether Farms Carmody plastic-free cheese

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.

Plastic-Free Cheese

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.



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39 comments
Mike
Mike

Something my grandmother would do to keep her cheeses mold free in the fridge is to wrap the cheese with cheesecloth that had been soaked in vinegar.  The cheese did adsorb some of the vinegar flavor, but I found it to be pleasant, especially with cheddar.

Natalie
Natalie

At Union Square market in NY, I recently saw a farm stand that was selling fresh homemade sheep's milk ricotta - something I dream about since I stumbled on some while visiting family in Italy.  However, it came with the plastic basket (these are usually used to make the cheese, but it was crumbled rather than fitted to the basket so I'm not sure) and sealed in a plastic wrapper.  I didn't buy this, but the local/fresh/wonderfulness made me really want it.  I was too embarassed to ask them if there was a way to make this plastic-free: could they bring some in a container and put it in one of mine, etc.  Wondering if anyone has any guidelines/suggestions for asking these sorts of questions.

Maggie
Maggie

I just learned to make homemade cheese using nothing but milk, lemon juice, and a bit of salt. So easy!

LineDance
LineDance

I just posted an incorrect website. The one about waxed muslin squares. The correct website is 

www. abeego.com

sorry.

LineDance
LineDance

I recently found some wonderful waxed muslin squares that are reusable with a wash in cool water. I use them to cover dishes of leftovers that I am putting in the fridge. I don't eat cheese but the maker told me that cheese lasts a long time and keeps beautifully in them. You can find them at www.ebeego.com 

Nichalus
Nichalus

I have been concerned for some time by the fact that the raw and organic cheeses I get - actually most of the cheeses I have gotten are packaged in plasticized thin film plastic. This is not just a worry - I can actually taste the gross flavor of the plasticizer on and in the cheese which gives it a horrible subtle off taste. I plan to contact Organic Valley again tomorrow as well as Mt. Sterling Creamery, the only two sources of cheese I eat anymore. After Fukushima I have been staggering out my dairy consumption since the cows milk is affected by radioactive iodine, strontium and cesium. I take Lugol's iodine but I am still very concerned about radiation contamination... on TOP of the PLASTIC ISSUE. Visit - www.remineralize.org to learn a great deal of new information on how to protect yourself from radiation.

Jennie
Jennie

The Food Mill in Oakland is also a great place for bulk foods. I haven't had any luck with getting them to use a tare weight, but I haven't asked in a while, so maybe I will. I get ill when I see so much plastic come home with me from Trader Joe's. I'm going to use your blog to get myself to find ways to avoid it!

Jane/Smallbones
Jane/Smallbones

Annie, I'd guess that the Quebec cheese is Oka. (I love it!) Cheese is the only reason that I'm not vegan, only vegetarian.

Julie
Julie

Regarding cream cheese: I've switched to "hard" cream cheese, rather than the spreadable stuff that comes in plastic tubs. The cheese is wrapped in foil, the boxed in cardboard which may or may not be plastic-lined. It's a step in the right direction, anyway! I keep thinking I need to try cheesemaking. But I've had so many yogurt failures, and uneven results making sour cream, and every cheese recipe calls for at least a gallon of milk . . . maybe I'll get bold and frivolous someday.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Melanie. Yeah, it's true they will cut a wheel for me. But I just don't like the idea that they are just going to wrap the rest of it in plastic as soon as it's cut. That's why I would rather buy the whole thing with friends and share it. If my friends decide to wrap their portions in plastic, that's their business. But at least I know it wasn't automatic.

Melanie Jade
Melanie Jade

Hi Beth! Mark and I go to Whole Foods. They have a type of cheese (I think made in the North East US) that is shipped to them wrapped in canvas, and there is no plastic involved. When we told the person behind the cheese counter about not wanting any cheese with plastic, he brought out a new wheel of that cheese and cut the amount we wanted from it (we didn't have to buy the whole wheel!). We put the cheese he cut in our reusable container. He said anytime we want cheese, he would be happy to cut a wheel for us. Surely there are people in your Whole Foods who are that generous and friendly as well. The only downside is that the cheese wasn't organic. We also found a type of organic cream cheese that doesn't use any plastic at WF.

Sandra / Always Well Within
Sandra / Always Well Within

Beth, I'm so amazed at your precision! I learn something new every time I visit your blog. You seem to solve the most impossible problems when it comes to plastic. Thank you.

Dmarie
Dmarie

I had no idea that the plastic could affect the cheese but it makes sense. I will have to look for wheels of cheese like yours. thanks for continuing to open my eyes to plastic-free options!

Sarah
Sarah

One of my mysteries is how I can get sour cream and cream cheese without plastic. I haven't found either in bulk or glass containers. I just made a batch of yogurt cheese which may work well but my homemade sour cream bombed. Any ideas?

Cat C-B
Cat C-B

I'm working myself up to making my own cheese, from local milk. I'll start with cream cheese and mozzarella, but I do want to work my way up to cheddar one day. New England Cheesemaking Supply is one place to turn for guidance and equipment. I already brew beer and bake bread; housewives back in the day used to do this, so why not me?

Rob
Rob

How about cheese in a can? Oooops I forgot BPA. Never mind!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Lori, just say no to individually wrapped cheese sticks. Buy a big block of cheese and cut your own. That plastic wrap is full of chemicals.

Lori Popkewitz Alper
Lori Popkewitz Alper

I am vegan so I don't eat any cheese, but my family does. I think our local farmer's market is the best bet for finding cheese without plastic wrapping. Unfortunately, the Boston area only has farmer's markets once the snow melts (which could be in July this year!). What about cheese sticks? My kids live on them and they are always in a plastic wrapper.

Beth Partin
Beth Partin

I have been vexed by this very question. Even our local company, Vitamin Cottage, which sells so many good things, has all its cheese encased in plastic (and all its bulk goods, for that matter). But the Boulder Farmers Market is starting up April 2, so I will try to find cheese without plastic there. I think Haystack Farms, a local cheese maker, puts everything in plastic. But there are other people selling cheese at the farmers market.

Heather
Heather

Great post and comments - I find that using foil around cheese works really well - gets a perfect seal next to the cheese and is fresh as the day I brought it home. Keep up the good work!!

Pheas
Pheas

I've never been able to figure out a way that cheese could be both profitable and humane and ethical, so I abstain.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting
Annie @ PhD in Parenting

I should mention as well that we have spent a lot of time in France and Germany. I often bought cheese at markets or in the supermarket and they usually wrapped it in paper.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting
Annie @ PhD in Parenting

Beth, One of them that I buy regularly is naked inside the box. Many of the other ones are not (i.e. they have some sort of plastic wrap inside the cardboard). It is a soft cheese (not as soft as a brie, but not a hard cheese either) and does have a rind (not a thick one - you can eat it). The name is completely escaping me right now and I'm not sure if it is from Quebec or France, but I'll try to remember to report back here after my next Costco trip.

Amy Korst
Amy Korst

This is one of my major garbage-free challenges as well. I've had three successes: 1. Bring my own container to the deli counter and ask them to place the cheese in the container. Often, the employees will oblige (they usually place the cheese on a piece of butcher paper to weigh it, which isn't ideal, but I compost the butcher paper. 2. Buy from local dairies, which is super-expensive for me. It's in the cards maybe once a year. 3. Make my own! I'm still experimenting with this, but I've been overjoyed with the results. Right now, I'm working my way through the book Home Dairy by Ashley English, which is fabulous. I've been photographing the process and am planning a blog post within the next month. I'm able to control the source of the ingredients (i.e. local, organic), and simple stuff like butter, sour cream, cream cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese can be made in literally minutes. It'll take a few months to see how the harder cheeses turn out, but I'll be writing about it!

Sara Jennings
Sara Jennings

I miss cheese! I have been trying to go totally plastic free since January. I tried twice to purchase cheese without plastic, without much success. The first time I tried to have a piece cut from a block and put in my container, but then they wrapped the block in plastic. Then when I tried another time, the person at the counter had no idea what I was requesting and I gave up. I can't really buy a whole wheel for two reasons: 1. I live in a tiny place and have only a beer sized fridge - a wheel would take up too much space. 2. Due to the high cost of the cheese I don't know of anyone that would go halfers on a block of cheese - my friends aren't the financially splurging type and so far nobody else has tried to reduce plastic to the same degree as I. At some point I am going to have to give in, the cravings intensify daily! Reading about cheese doesn't help --- but thanks for the tips anyway. If only I could find a local BC cheese that is plastic free - anyone? The only cheese at our farmers market comes wrapped in plastic. Though I have some friends that might start making cheese (something that I have decided I don't want to do, at least yet) and letting me have some. Thanks.

Sharon
Sharon

My mom and I were just talking about this so this is so funny that this came in my email box today. We will have to wait until farmer's market opens for us to do this. We are in Portland Oregon. I will be asking some local cheese makers about this too. I have a cheese addiction. One that is hard to break so this is one of those things that is hard to give up. Sharon

A.J.
A.J.

I want to give you a serious THANK YOU!!! I found this site a few weeks ago. I am an American living in the EU, though I have not officially signed up for your challenge, (I have not the patience to photograph all the plastic, it has to go immediately!) I have been Spartan! While it has not been too challenging to go plastic free here. It was a challenge to throw out several bottles of half used hair products and cosmetics I have had for over 10 years. Twenty lip glosses I never wore, mineral eyeshadow samples I wore once, anything with ingredients I did not feel comfortable with. Oh the LIBERATION! Thanks again! A.J.

Rebecca
Rebecca

Unfortunately, I haven't arrived at that level yet - tried to have the cheese I wanted to buy placed in a glass container at the counter, but the woman who sold it told me she couldn't do that because she would have to pre-weigh my container to subtract the weight when setting the price and that would take to long - even through there was no one waiting behind me. Well, I told her in that case I would buy my cheese somewhere else, but that doesn't really solve the problem, does it?

Debra Baida
Debra Baida

Ah! You finally took on one of my pet peeves - plastic-encased cheeses. It pains me time and time again. The oil tip will go a long way! Thus far, I have found a couple of places in my neighorhood (Mission/Noe Valley border in San Francisco) where one can purchase cheese cut to order WITHOUT PLASTIC. Lucca Ravioli Company (Mission District) will wrap your chunk of cheese in paper and seal the wrap with a strip of paper tape.The cheese shop on 24th Street (Noe Valley) will wrap it in paper upon request AND they will let you bring your own container and wax paper, too. (Though they do have wax paper on hand!)

Danielle
Danielle

I'm able to request cheese without the plastic wrap at my co-op (Tidal Creek Co-Op, Wilmington, NC)... they have some local cheeses that don't come wrapped in plastic, so I place an order before they cut it!! I actually picked up 2 lbs of NC Hoop cheese on Friday! YUM! Also, when the farmers market is going (April- Dec), I am able to take my own jar to the goat farmer and get goat cheeses. I have to label my jar with what I want and then they take it back to the farm, fill it for me, and bring it back the following week.

AJP
AJP

It's easy when you're vegan -- you just don't buy cheese! My boyfriend and I make a delicious, shreddable "mozz" cheeze for pizza made entirely from fresh or bulk ingredients. Lots of snack cheezes are made from cashews. Cheeze sauce can also be made plastic free. We don't like the packaged vegan cheeze products.

Julia (Color Me Green)
Julia (Color Me Green)

The farmer's market is the best option for getting cheese sans plastic because the farmers slice it in front of you and you can choose to put it in your own packaging. in new york, the farmers will generally wrap each slice of cheese in what i think is wax-coated paper. do you think there is plastic on that?

Annie @ PhD in Parenting
Annie @ PhD in Parenting

We are able to get some cheeses that come in a wooden container at our local Costco. P.S. - Love that you link to Life without Plastic. They are a "local" company for me. :)

Tiffany
Tiffany

We will be looking for a local cheese wheel when the farmer's market starts up again. My family could handle and entire wheel I bet. ;)

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Natalie Hi Natalie.  My friend Danielle Richardet, who blogs at http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/, regularly has her farmers market vendors package food in glass jars for her.  You should contact her.  And I should ask her to write a guest post explaining how she approaches them.  Her email address is DanielleLR55 {at} aol {dot} com.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Annie, is the cheese "naked" inside the cardboard box? Please let us know more about it after you buy it.

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  1. [...] to wrap cheese tightly to prevent it from drying out.) There are also these instructions on how to store cheese without plastic from Beth Terry of My Plastic-free Life. You can also wrap cheese in Abeego flats, a plastic-free [...]

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