The Cheese Conundrum


Oh, how I love cheese. When I was a kid, I used to melt American cheese in the microwave and eat it straight up, with a fork. Even as an adult, sometimes I play a little game in my head (or with anyone who’s willing to participate) called “Three Cheeses.” Which three cheeses would you choose if you could only have three for the rest of your life? You have to carefully consider all your food needs. For instance, if you want a life that includes pizza, you must have mozzarella. And Parmesan is a wise pick because it’s versatile.

Here are my three: Mozzarella, Parmesan, cheddar, feta, Gouda, Swiss, ricotta. And cream cheese. And American. Jeez, choosing only three is like making Sophie’s Choice.

So you can imagine my dismay when I realized I could find no local third-party humane-certified cheese or milk. Eggs, chicken, and bacon we’ve got covered (yay!); dairy has proved the biggest challenge. And how can a person have chicken Parmesan without parm and mozzarella? Or an omelet or tuna melt without cheddar? So the truth is, I’ve been eating cheese and butter indiscriminately, even as I adhere to strict standards about animal flesh.

But the life of a dairy cow may be even worse than one raised for its meat, so I’m starting to address the holes and inconsistencies in my food policies. In factory farms (including large organic farms whose packaging assures you that the milk used to make the cheese is free of hormones and antibiotics), cows are confined to single stalls and repeatedly impregnated so they produce milk. The female offspring, naturally, are used to replace older dairy cows in the herd. Many of the males are sold for veal (and we’ve all heard that horror story).

With these lovely facts in mind Michael and I went to the farmers’ market again on Saturday, fingers crossed. Dairy mission accomplished! We were happy to find two good sources: feta made with goat milk ($6 for 5 oz.) and Dutch Farmstead cheese for $16.99/lb. Though not humane certified, our conversations with the farmers/cheesemakers left us confident that their animals were well-treated.

The feta was made by Lynn Fleming of Lynnhaven Dairy Goats, who had a lot to tell us about how she raises her goats (she bottle feeds them when necessary!). The Dutch Farmstead was made at Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut, whose sign informed us that their 40 cows went to pasture on April 23rd. I felt that detailed pasture information was the best we could hope for, beyond the gold standard of a third-party certifer.

We also bought a half gallon (in an old-fashioned glass bottle) of skim milk from Milk Thistle Farm for $7.

I realize these prices are far beyond what most people can or will pay. They’re even beyond what I would have paid six months ago. This represents a personal shift in priorities—a shift I am fortunate to have the luxury to make.

Michael, who has been off all dairy for months now, was so elated by our purchases that he flapped his wings and flew home. I remained to talk to Ann Marie, a vintner who grows grapes and makes wine on the North Fork of Long Island, and bought a bottle of Merlot to celebrate.