Sustainable Cheesemaking: The Way Forward

How can cheesemaking be sustainable? The answer to this question was discussed today at a Milk Workshop held at 12 pm at Cheese, moderated by Piero Sardo, President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.
He opened the debate by lamenting the massive amount of energy used to make the packaging for individually wrapped cheese slices, and the waste involved in pasteurization, with the natural flora of raw milk destroyed and then replaced by artificial enzymes. “We have to change approach and style of consumption completely,” he said.
Next to speak was Luigi Bistagnino, a lecturer in industrial design at the Turin Polytechnic. He began with a sobering statistic: “Out of all the waste in our dumps, 70% is packaging.”
“Nature doesn’t produce waste,” he said. “It doesn’t destroy tons of oranges to maintain their price, or ship the fruit from Sicily to Milan to be processed then back to Sicily and from there to the rest of the world. In nature, everything is local.” Instead, he said, we are following a linear logic based only on the product and its value, namely money. This production-focused logic has caused the current economic crisis, and it is ridiculous to claim that the solution is to consume more, when that is exactly what caused the crisis in the first place.
“We have to get out of that paradigm,” he said, “and instead move towards a logic of connection, bringing production into a relationship with society and launching a new systemic productive model with zero emissions.”
As an example of a fluid model, based on flows of energy and materials and a lack of waste, he showed two diagrams of the production of Parmesan cheese from Reggiana Red cows. The first resulted only in butter, cheese, ricotta and meat, and was effectively linear, leading from the cow to the products, with lots of waste along the way. The second model was cyclical, with waste products like manure and dirty water reintegrated into the production chain, used in aquaculture, mycoculture, the production of worms for quail farming and so on. The final products included fish, mushrooms and quail eggs in addition to meat and cheese.
Franco Filippi of the Piedmontese company E++ then presented a case study from a small dairy in Veneto, in which energy use was analyzed in order to find ways of reducing consumption. “The most important renewable energy is what can be saved,” he said, “and the cleanest energy is what can be self-produced. He explained how water supplies from aqueducts can be turned in electricity through pico-hydroelectric generators. “We must exploit local resources with respect for the environment,” he concluded.
A practical example of an environmentally sustainable model for cheesemaking then came from Pascale Baudonnel, a Frenchwoman who makes Slow Food Presidium geitost cheese in a tiny village on a Norwegian fjord. “We have 300 people and 300 goats,” she said. The goats are grazed on the surrounding steep hillsides, and their winter fodder (silage and hay) is harvested primarily by hand. To make the cheese, milk must be boiled for eight to ten hours, but the dairy uses small woodchips from a local timber mill which produce more energy than the same amount of firewood.
As much as possible is kept local. The goats are also used for meat, and a mobile slaughterhouse butchers the animals at the farm. Seawater is UV-filtered and hot water produced during the cheesemaking process is used to heat the dairy. The cheese wheels are ripened in underground brick cellars with no need for artificial cooling. The majority of the cheese and sausages produced is sold locally.
Baudonnel then contrasted her inspiring example with the alternative: “If we sold our goats’ milk it would go to the nearest dairy, 500 km away, and be used to make goat’s cheese for the United States.”

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