Package free cheese bought from The Dairy in Ponsonby Central
Upon making the switch to plastic free/ zero waste I quickly learned that cheese can be rather difficult to source without the pesky packaging. We started making our own cheese initially, soft cheese is very easy to make, however one gets sick of soft cheeses after a while and we only had the option of supermarket homogenised milk in plastic bottles. If we lived closer to a farm then we would probably continue on with the cheese making, but at the moment it's a once in a while thing. We used to have a flatmate that worked with a cheese maker, so we would get our cheese direct and in paper or foil packaging, again it was mainly soft cheese though. After much trial and error I have found where to purchase plastic free cheese and started to make 'vegan' cheese.
Paneer bought from Khyber Spice Invader in my own container
Local Indian or 'Ethnic' store: I have found loose paneer and feta at Indian stores before. Specifically Khyber Spice Invader in Royal Oak, we buy loose feta by the block for around $5 each. I take my container and get them to weigh it and they deduct the weight of the container (they don't have a proper way to do this as yet), I have also used my reusable plastic Kids Konserve lunch wrap with a napkin to carry it.
Feta cheese bought in a Kids Konserve plastic wrap from Khyber Spice Invader
Local cheese shop or deli: these have become a rarity in this age however we did find one in Auckland which very easily and happily sold us zero waste cheese. The Dairy in Ponsonby Central sells cheese by weight from the block. They have a massive selection of cheese (they even have a cheese room!) which is all NZ made. The shop itself is fairly waste free, they have a compost collection, recycling and a jar refund scheme for their fresh local jams. Unfortunately the cheese legally has to be wrapped in plastic in the display case, but it is mostly package free or wrapped in paper in their cheese room. The staff are very happy to sell the cheese directly in to your container, and with no stickers even (disclaimer: it turns out we knew the cheese monger, as we had previously given her a ride to Splore and volunteered on the zero waste team with her!). It is pricey this way, but the cheese it totally worth it. One of the cheeses we chose, a cheddar called Cymglyn, was the "most sustainable" with low food miles (Eketahuna) and from a farm of just 4 cows each with names.
The lovely Rae at The Dairy in Ponsonby Central knows a lot about cheese!
One of the cheeses we purchased.
The supermarket: I have yet to have any luck with this, I asked at one Countdown and they seemed open to the idea of selling their cheese loose but it would have to be on delivery day and pre arranged, as they chop it down and plastic wrap it. NZ Ecochick has done it before with no issues, check out her blog post here.The fancier supermarkets such as Nosh and Farro have deli counters which sell unpackaged cheese, we haven't tried there yet though.
Bin Inn or bulk stores: Bin Inn Takanini have large cheese wheels which they will happily cut up and put straight in a container, bonus: they sell cumin cheese!
Make Your Own Cheese:
Homemade ricotta and whey
Soft cheese is fairly easy to make, I won't go in to detail as there are heaps of recipes and "how to's" online. We usually made ricotta, paneer or labneh, which are the easiest of cheese varieties to make. Unfortunately we had to buy our milk in plastic bottles from the supermarket as we live in Central Auckland. You can purchase milk fresh and package free straight from the farmer's gate though. The leftover whey was used in soups, pizza bases, as a fermenting starter, given to the cat, or frozen for later use.
As we don't buy dairy milk anymore, I frequently make vegan "cheese." The key ingredient is nutritional yeast which can be bought in bulk from Bin Inn or organic stores.
Here are some of my favourite vegan cheese recipes:
Vegan nacho cheese
Going Zero Waste's Best Nacho Cheese pictured above on rice & beans and mentioned previously in my zero waste nacho post Almond Parmesan, I keep this on hand in the pantry to sprinkle over dinner or popcorn Cashew Cheese, there are many variations of this one as cashews and nutritional yeast are a fairly common vegan cheese blend. There are plenty of recipes out there. Macadamia is also a common nut for vegan cheese.
Revive Cafe Cheesy Cashew Sauce:
I found this in one of the Revive Cafe books, it's great on broccoli.
1 cup cashews
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 1/2 cups water
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Gently heat in a frypan/saucepan on a low heat until it thickens in consistency.