The Right Packaging for Cheese (for producers)
Finding the right packaging for my range was one of the biggest problems for my business when I started.
I didn't want to bring in tons of extra plastic into the world, so the problem was only made more challenging to deal with. However, I found the solution which I hope all cheesemakers adopt.
TL;DR - Use cheese grade Natureflex packaging.
What Does Cheese Need
For cheese to thrive and reduce the risk of spoilage, it requires a specific climate. That is even after it has been matured, sliced, and packaged.
At the basic level; cheese needs to breathe with proper gas exchange. This would allow any development of gas to be released as microbes within the cheese are still active.
A breathable wrapper would still need to maintain a level of moisture and humidity, so it does not dry out.
If a wrapper is used that does not allow the cheese to breathe, such as cling film, the build of gas and/or moisture will spoil the cheese. If incorrect temperatures are maintained for this type of wrapper, then excessive fermentation in live-cheese can occur where one of many things could happen, the common one will be ammonia build up.
Though there are a few plastic-free options, I found that biodegradable packaging means nothing as plastic is also biodegradable. Just like wood is biodegradable too. I think there is no legal definition and so as long as it can degrade over time, it can be marketed as biodegradable. Using packaging that degrades over the decades should never be used as it does not solve the problem of why we want to reduce the use of plastic.
Compostables are the way to go. However, the market of compostables is mostly industrial compostables. As you can tell from the name, industrial compostables will only compost under special requirements in an industrial setting. The boom of these types of compostables is replacing the use of plastics; however, they are once again not solving the problem as they will never degrade in domestic settings, landfills, or oceans.
Excluding the use of reusable packaging, the only answer is home compostables. Home compostables will degrade in a matter of weeks in home compost bins.
Natureflex has been developed by a global company called Futamura, who have 3rd-party manufacturers around the world, creating a variety of different types of products.
Natureflex comes in different gradings with specific ones for cheese that help us with the requirements for a gas exchange setup.
Natureflex is a home-compostable material that is made from wood cellulose. For the grade I use for my products (NVS & NK), they can be composted in home compost bins in weeks, in landfills and even have a minimum of 90% degradation in ocean life (requirement to be certified) with zero toxins.
The beauty of this is if it goes into general waste to be incinerated, it produces 100% clean energy.
Producing Natureflex has a low carbon-footprint from what I know; however, I don't know compared to traditional cheese paper.
Depending on the cheese type and how you use the packaging, cheese can have a shelf-life of several weeks to a month or so.
My only con for Natureflex is sometimes the see-through film looks a bit naff. There is a white version; however, it requires ordering in massive numbers from my UK supplier!
Compared to Traditional Packaging
As mentioned, cheese requires specific packaging; otherwise, it will spoil rapidly. This means plain paper is out as it will dry out in a matter of hours/days. Deli paper may have the problems as plain paper, or it may not let the cheese breathe and also spoil rapidly.
Cheese paper & deli paper from my research is only available when it is made from animal-based materials or plastic/paraffin. Both contain plastics. Both cannot be recycled.
Cheese/deli packaging that is made from plants (see vegware.com) is available but is only industrially compostable, which is a definite no-no.
Unless other home-compostables have been missed (let me know in the comments if I have), then Natureflex is the only way from what I can see.
How to get Natureflex
I must emphasise, I am not getting paid for saying this. I just want to reduce the need for plastic.
To buy Natureflex at wholesale based on your requirements (sheets, bags, custom), contact the appropriate division of Futamura. Remember, there are several grades of Natureflex that is not suited for cheese. Make sure you get the right one!