Initially cheese can seem difficult to get plastic free, but I discovered there are a few options if you are willing to put in a little effort at the start.
Buy wax-covered cheese
It took me a while, and a lot of talking to store staff, to find cheddar cheese coated in wax which wasn’t too gigantic for my needs or my hip pocket. But eventually I found one I like that comes in 1kg and 2kg wheels. I also found some smaller cheese wedges coated in wax, but we use cheddar a lot so I still get the bigger wheel. I reuse the wax from my cheese to make fire lighters so that there is no waste at all, but I’d love for people to tell me in the comments if they use paraffin wax for anything else.
A bonus from all the talking I’ve done about plastic free living is that stores have adapted to meet higher demand for products like this. I haven’t just made this up, store staff have told me. I see this as proof that our individual actions matter and we can make a difference using our buying power. If you can’t find a product you want, it definitely pays to talk about it with store staff.
You might be wondering how to store a large wheel of cheese at home once you start using it. I use glass or plastic containers, or beeswax wraps if I don’t have a spare container. I’ve had no issues with it spoiling before we use it all.
Buy soft cheese in glass jars or wrapped in foil
Have a look around for cheese in glass jars which can be reused or recycled.
It’s also possible to get soft cheeses in small wheels or wedges wrapped only in foil. Just make sure you look carefully because there can be hidden plastic, as with many products these days. When you have finished the cheese, make sure the foil is clean for recycling. Foil needs to be scrunched up to at least the size of a golf ball to be recyclable, so keep adding foil to your ball until it is the right size.
Find a store that will cut you a wedge to take home in your own container
I love parmesan so I really wanted to find a store that would cut some parmesan off a block for me to take home in my own container. What I found was that most places were happy to do this for me as long as I could be available at the time they cut the parmesan, or if I could leave a container with them and collect it later. You see, because they’d never been asked to do this before their process was to take a large block or wheel of parmesan, then cut and wrap all the portions in plastic at once. Whilst I appreciated that businesses would do this for me, it was difficult to organise and I wanted to find a solution that was more manageable for the business if more people wanted to shop plastic free. A business would soon get sick of looking after other people’s containers and calling up individuals when they are about to cut cheese.
I finally found a local store that managed cheese a little differently so that I was able to collect a wedge of parmesan in my container on any day that I walked into the store. They were also conscious of managing the amount of plastic they used on their cheeses. In fact, we talked about ways to help people shop more sustainably and now I am pleased to say, with our combined efforts and those of other sustainable shoppers there is now enough demand to have a ‘cheese cutting day’. On the 10th June 2016 Stella’s Pantry will be splitting open a 38kg wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano and offering a 20% discount to customers who bring their own tubs. This means there will be no plastic waste at all! I’m pretty happy with this development so I’ll be hanging around at Stella’s Pantry from 10am -11am on that day to chat to anyone interested in sustainable shopping.
Again, I find parmesan keeps really well as a block or grated in my container in the fridge.
You can also take containers to collect other cheeses from your delicatessen. Check out my little video below to see how easy it is.
Create your own buying group with friends
If you can’t find a store that will cut off wedges of cheese for you to take home in your own container, why not get together with a bunch of like-minded friends to purchase and split a wheel of cheese amongst yourselves?
UPDATE: I received this message from cheese producer, Bronwyn Brandon from Prom Country Cheese “We would be happy to try and accommodate a buying group that would like to split a wheel. Most of our cheese are matured unwrapped in the cellars or as whole wheels in foil wraps and if ordered we would be happy to cut into required wedges and wrap into the foil for you to split up at home. Our Cellar door is open to the public on weekends.” I’ve included it as another example of how we are creating change together, and to show that going straight to food producers is an option.
Make your own cheese
The more I learn to make for myself, the more I want to know how to make other things. The idea of cheese making took my fancy so when I booked my pastry making class, I also booked into String and Salt’s Fresh Mediterranean Cheeses class (check out their season three classes for July to September) to learn about making mozzarella, haloumi and ricotta. I’d previously had a go at making ricotta and figured out how to make labne from my homemade yoghurt but I was keen to know if I could make mozzarella and haloumi plastic free. Turns out it is possible to make cheese with very little plastic waste, and save yourself some money. Mozzarella, haloumi, and ricotta are quick to make, require no maturation and no cultures, so the main things you need are plastic free milk, rennet, and citric acid. I have access to plastic free milk but I am on the lookout for plastic free rennet and citric acid in my area.
If you are interested in learning to make Persian feta, feta, haloumi and ricotta in a workshop, I see that Tamsin’s Table has four places left for her class, Farmstead Cheesemaking With Burke Brandon (Prom Country Cheese) on 18th June 2016. I’m sure there are many other cheesemakers in Gippsland offering courses so feel free to add those in the comments. I’m also keen to know in the comments below if there are other cheeses that can be made plastic free or with very little waste. I’m right at the beginning stages with this so any advice you can offer would be great!