When was the last time you searched out organic cheese and what is it? And which cheesemakers in California make organic cheese?
Organic certification of cheese comes down to the animals, the ingredients and the method of processing; all overseen by the USDA National Organic Program.
Animals must be raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. All feed must be certified organic (organic pastures, and no pesticides or genetically engineered feeds). Animals must be allowed access to outdoors, including shade and sunlight, clean and dry bedding, and space for exercise (amount of access and pasture required is outlined and determined by region).
If an animal is sick and antibiotics are the only solution to save the animal, organic regulations require that you save the animal, but then remove it from your organic herd. If this happens, farmers then sell their milk as conventional, or more likely, sell the animal itself.
The ingredients must all be certified organic as well. That includes both the milk and the enzymes (which create the curds). Chymosin, the ingredient produced naturally in the lining of a ruminant’s stomach and solidifies the milk and creates curds, is available as a genetically engineered ingredient. This genetically engineered enzyme is the most commonly used enzyme in cheesemaking. As it is genetically engineered, it is not allowed in organic cheese. If you care about that, and you’re not sure if your cheese contains a genetically engineered ingredient, contact the company to inquire. Or, simply purchase organic cheese.
In processing, only cleaning agents that do not leave a residue are allowed to touch equipment or ingredients.
California organic cheesemakers include Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Organic Pastures and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Rumiano and Sierra Nevada also have organic lines of cheese.
Organic cheese sales grew 15% a year between 2012 and 2015 and are now estimated to be around $570 million annually.
Want organic cheese? Look for the USDA Organic label. Questions about organic cheese? Just ask!