No matter how you slice it, mainstream cheese is inefficient fare: Almost 10 pounds of milk are needed to make a typical 1-pound wheel. But you need not forsake your favorite Gouda. Just choose a brand that takes sustainability into account. I asked five experts to name their favorites.
"Long before sustainability was celebrated, LAZY LADY FARM in northern Vermont utilized green practices. The farm operates completely on solar and wind power, while the hillside aging caves take advantage of ambient temperature and humidity to make a diverse array of seasonal and organic goat's and cow's milk cheeses. La Petite Tomme, a bloomy-rind disk from goat's milk, is a signature product. The soft surface yields to a moist interior with hints of mushroom, milk, and nuts." $11 for 6 ounces, available seasonally at gourmetlibrary.com
Affineur WENDY WU is the cheese expert for Classified, a European-style cafe and retail chain in Hong Kong known for selling artisan foods. Time magazine named Classified one of its top five restaurants for cheese lovers.
"It's wonderful to see production that follows the rhythms of nature and respects the land. BEAUFORT CHALET D'ALPAGE cow's cheese, from the French Alps, illustrates how those traditions are preserved. In summer, meadows and pastures are perfect for grazing, and herds move up the mountains at their own pace. The cows are not overmilked and only produce enough milk per year for about 300 66-pound wheels. This ensures the quality of the cheese and, just as important, avoids overworking the pastures, which would harm wildflowers and grasses." $19 for 8 ounces, available at gourmetfoodworld.com
"I'm a sucker for aged artisan cheeses, and Bob Wills of CEDAR GROVE CHEESE in Plain, Wis., makes amazing organic and ecologically sensitive products. His creamery is the first -- and still the only -- to use a Living Machine system to treat wastewater on-site. Though I adore Dante, a nutty sheep's milk cheese, his fresh cheeses are equally good -- and since they don't require additional energy to age, they're even greener. He's opening a new sustainable plant that'll use wind turbines for electricity." $10 for 8 ounces
Third-generation dairyman TODD MOORE owns Lucky Layla Farms, an artisan brand in Plano, Texas. Moore is committed to keeping his products handcrafted and his cows hormone-free.
"FISCALINI's Vintage Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar has a beautiful earthy taste with a slight crunch from the tyrosine crystals that form during the aging process. These are true handcrafted cheeses made on a century-old, family-owned dairy farm in Modesto, Calif. The company is vertically integrated, which lowers its carbon footprint since they don't truck milk back and forth. They also run their farm with an anaerobic digester, which produces fuel from cow manure and other waste products." $15 for 8 ounces
MIYOKO SCHINNER is a vegan chef in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as an author, a natural-food developer, and a former restaurateur. Her latest cookbook, slated for publication this summer, is Say Cheese: Vegan Alternatives to Make You Smile.
"I'm a fan of BUTE ISLAND FOOD'S Blue Style Sheese, a vegan alternative to blue cheese. Though it doesn't have the blue veins, it tastes remarkably like the real thing and is the only blue-cheese alternative I've found. It's great crumbled in a salad or with fresh pears and apples. And because it's plant-based, its production requires a fraction of the energy burned by its dairy counterpart." $7 for 8 ounces, available at veganstore.com
Images courtesy of Lori Eanes