As I was sitting in a room filled with bespectacled scholars, mad-haired scientists and well-dressed industry experts yesterday, it occurred to me that the more I learn about cheese, the less I really know.
Case in point: about 50 people gathered at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to get an update on The Green Cheese Project, which according to its website, is a “a partial LCA of integrated dairy and bio-fuels production systems.”
Yeah, I have no idea what that actually means, so I Googled it and found that for the past couple of years, a group of progressive dairy farmers, state agencies, and faculty at UW-Madison have been working together to quantify energy intensity, greenhouse gas emissions, and the overall environmental impact of dairy and bio-fuel production in Wisconsin. They’re calling their work the Green Cheese Project.
And, while I spent most of yesterday’s meeting trying to maintain consciousness and follow acronym-laden lingo, I did glean these facts, which I think are pretty neat:
- World dairy contributes 4 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases.
- The carbon footprint of a gallon of milk is 17.6 pounds.
- The carbon footprint of a pound of cheese is 10 times higher, because it takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.
- Processing whey, the byproduct of making cheese, has a much larger footprint than just making cheese.
Hmmm … studying cows on computers, that had to be fun. The study concluded that compared to confinement systems, dairy cows kept outdoors all year had 30 percent lower levels of ammonia emissions, and that a well-managed dairy herd kept outdoors year-round left a carbon footprint that was 6 percent smaller than that of a high-production dairy herd kept in barns.
In addition, the study found when fields formerly used for feed crops were converted to perennial grasslands for grazing, carbon sequestration levels climbed from zero to as high as 3,400 pounds per acre every year. Which, is great, providing you live somewhere that doesn’t experience a little something called winter.
All in all, the Green Cheese Project makes me wish I had paid more attention to subjects that ended in “ology” in school so I could understand it better. And if, unlike me, you understood half of what I just wrote about, then follow the team’s Green Cheese Project progress and check back for conclusions and publications coming soon.