‘It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products’: blessed are the cheesemakers

As a turophile planning out my holiday cheese plate, I recently read with consternation a report by a Washington, D.C., environmental research organization that found cheese to have the third largest carbon footprint among all sources of protein. It stands behind beef (No. 2) and lamb (No. 1).

CheezwhizThe carbon released to transport animal feed, the methane belched by dairy animals, the energy expended to transform a gallon of milk into roughly a pound of cheese, and the fuel used to truck the finished product to stores combine to make the commercial cheese industry a major agricultural contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group found. For every 2.2 pounds of cheese produced, 29.7 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents are released into the atmosphere, the report said.

Buying Maine-made cheese – the state has more than 70 registered cheesemakers, so there are plenty of options – obviously cuts down on transportation-related emissions. And Maine Cheese Guild President Eric Rector, cheesemaker and owner of the Monroe Cheese Studio, says there are questions a cheese eater can ask of suppliers to make sure they are buying greener local cheese.

In her white lab coat and sensible crocs (there is no such thing), Sayer Dion Smyczek doesn’t look like a typical food revolutionary, but she is helping to upend the world of artisan cheesemaking.

For the past few months, Smyczek has worked as the nation’s first and only full-time microbiologist at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, a small creamery in northeastern Vermont. Although it sits above a cheese cellar, her state-of-the-art workspace would make any microbiologist feel at home.

Making cheese has typically been more art than science, relying on trial and error to create the perfect taste and texture. With their high-tech microbiology lab, Jasper Hill is changing all of that. They are turning cheesemaking into a science, giving artisans a chance to harness microbes in order to nurture new flavors and textures.