An answer to a question about the carbon footprint of cheese inspired this question.

According to Wikipedia, cheese can be made from the milk of several animals:

  • cows
  • goats
  • sheep
  • buffalo
  • reindeer
  • yak
  • donkey
  • moose
  • camel

Another key ingredient in cheese making is rennet, which can be made from animal, vegetable, and/or microbial sources. For this question I am not concerned with the environmental impact of rennet, assuming that its carbon footprint can be calculated separately from that of the rest of the cheese production process.

So, which type of cheese has the lowest carbon footprint? Is it simply a factor of which type of livestock has the lowest carbon footprint, or are other factors involved?

  • 1
    A pretty conclusive text can be found here: grist.org/sustainable-food/…. Goat and cow cheese are equally bad, sheep cheese is worse. As a rule of thumb, the lower the fat content, the less the climate impact. Which makes Harzer Cheese (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harzer) probably the least problematic (and least tasteful) cheese. – Rainer Glüge Mar 17 '17 at 20:07
  • 1
    @ChristianSchmidt That grist.org article is setting off my bullshit alarm. They claim that cheese is 'substantially worse' than milk because 10 lbs of milk makes 1 lb of cheese. However, milk is 89.3% water, according to the USDA, so 10 lb of milk has the same environmental impact as 1 lb of cheese plus 9 lbs of carbon neutral water; both sources providing the same calories and protein. And, the heavier milk takes more energy to transport and refrigerate, and more space to store, so I think they actually have it backwards. – kingledion Mar 31 '17 at 20:22

Recently reported research carried out by Rocky De Nys of James Cook University, Australia, has found that a 2% seaweed feed supplement for cattle substantially reduces the methane production in cattle rumen, thereby reducing the greenhouse gas emission of cattle.

I suggest that you use seaweed fed cows' milk to make your cheese.

Popular article: Feeding cows seaweed could slash global greenhouse gas emissions, researchers say

Research paper: Seaweed as a protein source for mono-gastric livestock


Here, we critically appraise the literature and quantitatively assess seaweeds as a protein source in livestock feeds by assembling a database of amino acid data for 121 seaweed species and comparing the quality and concentration of protein to 'traditional' protein sources (soybean meal and fishmeal) and then benchmarking the seaweeds against the amino acid requirements of mono gastric livestock (chicken, swine and fish).

Key findings and conclusions: The quality of protein (% of essential amino acids in total amino acids) of many seaweeds is similar to, if not better than, traditional protein sources. However, seaweeds without exception have substantially lower concentrations of total essential amino acids, methionine and lysine (on a whole biomass basis, % dw) than traditional protein sources. Correspondingly, seaweeds contain an insufficient concentration of protein, and specifically insufficient essential amino acids, to meet the requirements of most mono-gastric livestock in the whole seaweed form. Consequently, the concentration or extraction of protein from seaweeds will be the most important goal in their development as an alternative source of protein for mono-gastric livestock.

  • 1
    Can you provide a link to the report? Any idea of this is being used commercially yet? What's the cost? – LShaver Sep 15 '17 at 15:13
  • @LShaver: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/… – Conor Sep 15 '17 at 15:54
  • @LShaver: Cost of the seaweed in the diet? I buy it at about EUR400/t, and feed about 75g/day per animal about EUR0.07/day. I put out about 3.5Kg/day for 45 cows, on their silage. I only use in winter as that's the only time I feed them, the rest of the year they're out on grass. – Conor Sep 15 '17 at 15:57
  • This answer is only about methane reduction for cattle. It does not answer the question about different animals. – Jan Doggen Oct 31 '18 at 13:11
  • As methane is a significant part of the carbon footprint of production, I believe the answer is valid. The feeding of seaweed products to ruminants, other than cattle, may prove to be highly effective in reducing the production of methane. Obviously, this has no relevance to the production of cheese using milk derived from non ruminant mammals! – Conor Nov 7 '18 at 23:32

Vegan cheese has the lowest carbon footprint

First, let's take a look at cheese from dairy milk. Let's go with the lowest estimate and say that cheese has a carbon footprint of 5.13 kg CO2e/kg yield.

For cheddar, as sold at retail (63.2 % milk solids), the carbon footprint using the IPCC 2007 factors is 8.60 kg CO2e/kg cheese consumed with a 95 % confidence interval (CI) of 5.86–12.2 kg CO2e/kg. For mozzarella, as sold at retail (51.4 % milk solids), the carbon footprint is 7.28 kg CO2e/kg mozzarella consumed, with a 95 % CI of 5.13–9.89 kg CO2e/kg.

Source: Life cycle assessment of cheese and whey production in the USA

Now let's consider two different vegan cheeses with two different compositions. First up is Miyoko's cheese where the main ingredient cashews, has a carbon footprint around 2.3 kg CO2e/kg yield. This is likely to represent an upper bound because adding water (second ingredient) reduces the carbon footprint per kg of yield.

Miyoko's - Organic Cashews, Filtered Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Parsley, Organic Rice Miso (Organic Rice, Water, Salt, Alcohol, Koji Culture), Organic Garlic, Organic Herbs, Sea Salt, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures.

And let's look at Daiya cheese. One life cycle analysis of cassava starch found that dry starch (like tapioca starch) had a footprint of 0.594 kg CO2e/kg yield. Again, this is likely to represent an upper bound because the first ingredient is just water. Vegetable oils (canola/safflower) can get as high as 4 kg CO2e/kg yield, but even if Daiya was made of 100% oil it would still be less than dairy cheese.

Daiya - Filtered water, tapioca starch, coconut oil, vegan natural flavours, pea protein isolate, non-GMO expeller pressed: canola and/or safflower oil, chicory root extract, sea salt, xanthan gum, lactic acid (vegan), tricalcium phosphate, pea starch, potato protein, vegan enzyme, cane sugar, annatto (colour), coconut cream

  • 2
    "Cheese is a dairy product derived from milk" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese – Jean-Paul Calderone Oct 25 '18 at 13:40
  • Agree with @Jean-PaulCalderone... this is an answer to a different question, and while it has merit, I'm personally not able to eat nut-derived foods, so I'd prefer to eat less cheese than equal amounts of a substitute -- hence why I was hoping to find out which cheese is best. – LShaver Oct 25 '18 at 14:57

This answer is not very scientific. but the closer you get to the cheese maker and the closer that cheese maker is to the milk supplier, the lower the carbon footprint.

You could buy a cheese made with the lowest carbon impact ever, but if that cheese is transported using petrochemical, or even electrical car, the carbon footprint will shoot right up.

It's the distance the cheese traveled and not really how it was made. Especially if the cheese came from overseas.

  • 5
    Welcome to Sustainable Living! I disagree with your last 2 sentences. Transportation distance is certainly part of a carbon footprint, but for foods the larger part is usually production Perhaps you have any references to back up your claims? – THelper Sep 29 '17 at 6:24

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