If you’re a cheese lover you may already have a hard time choosing between your favourite Cheddar, Stilton or Mozzarella. In recent years, creameries have created yet another delicious choice for us: organic.
Like other organic agricultural products found at the grocery, organic cheese is produced without the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, or dangerous pesticides. The milk comes from all-organic farms where the cows eat only organically grown pasture grasses. In addition, organic cheese is free from artificial colouring and flavourings, and in most cases, the enzyme rennet (used to curdle the milk) is not genetically engineered or animal-derived. Instead, naturally occurring microbial enzymes are used, making organic cheese a deliciously safe choice for vegetarians.
Why Buy Organic
When buying any food, your mission is to find something that tastes good, and is good for you. Organic cheeses are often superior in taste and quality, and many have received accolades from cheese connoisseurs and professional critics alike. The Organic Blue Stilton from Cropwell Bishop Creamery has even won the title of “Supreme Champion” at the British Cheese Awards.
While great news for your taste buds, the benefits of buying organic cheese are far more wide-reaching, positively affecting everything from your personal health to farm animal welfare to the earth’s endangered environment. Here are a few quick bites to know:
Organic cheese has all the goodness of regular cheese, including healthy levels of calcium and protein. But research has shown that due to the cows’ more natural pasture-fed diet, cheese made from organic milk is actually higher in nutritional value.
- More Omega-3s – Studies have confirmed that organic milk naturally contains more Omega-3 fatty acid than non-organic milk (even up to 71% more). Omega-3s are essential for maintaining a healthy heart, flexible joints, and strong bones and teeth.
- More Antioxidants – Research has also shown that organic milk is up to 50% higher in vitamin E, 75% higher in beta-carotene and two to three times higher in antioxidants like lutein. These organic substances fight damaging free radicals and may aid in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.
- Fewer Chemical Residues – Organic cheese also minimises exposure to the toxins and pesticides often associated with factory farming practices. Although there is little research to explain how these chemicals react when combined in our bodies, it is estimated that people in the Western World have absorbed at least 300 to 500 potentially harmful chemicals from food. This is an important issue to consider for children, as their rapidly growing nervous systems are likely more sensitive to the effects of these compounds.
Organic dairy farmers are also committed to the human treatment of farm animals. Their milking cows are not pumped with protein or antibiotics to force them into producing beyond their natural capacities. They are kept in good health with organic feed and provided access to fresh air, natural light and open pasture as much as possible.
In addition, if the cows become sick, they are treated holistically with homeopathic medicines. At non-organic farms, cows are routinely given antibiotics to prevent infection, even when they are healthy. While important in fighting disease, antibiotics become less effective when used excessively. And the widespread use of antibiotics on healthy animals may actually lower their effectiveness in treating humans.
For farmland to be organic, farmers are not allowed to use chemicals that pollute the air, water and food. Instead, they use non-toxic pest-control methods and sustainable farming techniques like crop rotation and composting. These methods create and restore healthy, rich soils while conserving water and fossil fuels. They also encourage wildlife, which has dramatically declined in Europe over the last 50 years. A report in English Nature revealed there are far more British birds, butterflies, and bats fluttering around organic farms than conventional ones.
How To Identify Organic
For cheese buyers seeking higher nutritional value, less exposure to toxins and humane and sustainable farming practices, labelling is very important. In the UK and the U.S., certified organic labelling is governed by law. There are numerous standards enforced by organic certification authorities, so when in doubt, simply check your cheese packaging for organic accreditation symbols and logos from OFF and SOPA, or the official USDA organic seal. Cheese labelled and titled “organic” must contain at least 95% organically-produced raw or processed agricultural product.
Organic cheeses of all varieties can be found at good cheese shops, farmers markets, delicatessens and by mail order. And yes, they are a little more expensive, because organic farmers pay more to produce organic milk and maintain organic practices. Considering all the health and environmental benefits of organic cheese, you truly get what you pay for.
An added plus – going organic seems to be quite en vogue at the moment. Organic products have been endorsed by supermodel Elle Macpherson, actress Zoe Wanamaker, celebrity TV chef Sophie Grigson, and Master Chef of Great Britain, Steven Saunders. Who knew organic cheese could be so glamorous?