In my last post, I shared my thoughts on how to deliver TOKYO VEG LIFE faux-mage products sustainably to customers. In this post, I’m going to share my thoughts on sustainable manufacturing.

What we can learn from history of cheesemaking

As I work on creating new cheese-like fermented foods without using any dairy, the base ingredient may be different, but I’ve been reading a lot of books and papers on cheese to better understand it.

In particular, I’ve been studying the history of cheesemaking with great interest.

Myriad types of cheeses that exist in the world today can be categorized into several families by the similarity of manufacturing method, and the origin of each family can be traced to a particular region or place, such as the Alpine region of Switzerland and Eastern France, villages of Northern France, monasteries in Europe and England. The environment and conditions that each place was faced with allowed particular manufacturing methods to develop and gave birth to various forms of cheese with unique sizes, firmness, flavors, etc.

For example, in the Alpine region of Switzerland and Eastern France, the finished cheese needed to be transported through rough mountain roads, so the cheese (most commonly known as Swiss cheese today) had to be large, elastic (hard to break) and long-lasting.

To make elastic and long-lasting cheese, the moisture content of the cheese had to be low, but salt, a very effective agent in separating cheese (curd) from liquid (whey), was a rare and expensive commodity in the mountains far away from the sea.

As a result, probably through trials, people figured out a way to create such cheeses without using much salt by heating the milk at a high temperature and pressing to extract the whey.

Also, “cheese eye” or the holes you find in Swiss cheese is a product of carbon gas created by a specific kind of lactic acid bacteria in the milk. This bacteria not only create holes in the cheese but also bring out the unique flavor that is essential in Swiss cheese. AND this bacteria can only survive in low-sodium environment.

As this example illustrates, what type of cheese could be made was restricted by the environment and needs of each place, and that resulted in creation of cheeses that are unique to the place.

In modern cheesemaking, each country has a quality certification system to protect traditional cheesemaking. There are requirements like proof of connection to a particular region, so simply put, you can’t call your cheese “Camembert” if it doesn’t meet the set standards.

In the old days, there was no need for such certification system because the cheeses could only be made in particular climate conditions and environment of the region. Now, you can get any necessary starter and you can control the temperature and humidity in the aging stage by AC, so in theory, you can make any cheese you want anywhere in the world.

In reality, a lot of the cheeses in the market today are industrial kinds, meaning that they are made in factories for cheap and mass production, rather than by a traditional method of artisan cheeses.

How to manufacture sustainably?

By now, you can probably guess what my answer would be to the questions of how to manufacture sustainably.

Learn from the traditional methods and manufacture with nature’s help as much as possible. And not force something that’s not possible.

As I shared in my previous post, to create TOKYO VEG LIFE faux-mage, I’ll be relying on imports for the main ingredient – cashew nuts – but I’m going to try my best to source other ingredients domestically and locally.

In manufacturing food products, it’s easy to forget the carbon footprint (how much carbon has been emitted until the product reaches you) of ingredients. In particular, when trying to make something that was originally developed overseas like vegan cheese, natural tendency is to follow foreign recipes with foreign ingredients.

If you take a step back and ask yourself if there is any local ingredient that can give the same or similar effect and try different ingredients, you might be surprised by the availability of local alternatives and also unique effect that such alternatives can bring.

In other words, in the process of trying to use domestic and local ingredients as much as possible, you not only reduce the burden on the environment but also get opportunities to discover new qualities of foods that you thought you knew. And the flavor of the final product, I believe, will be more appealing to the local people (Japanese).

In the manufacturing process, it’s important to minimize the use of plastics like wraps and also disposable products that can be used only once and go into waste.

In the aging process, I’m going to use the underground storage space which can maintain low temperature all year round especially in the mountains where I live so that I won’t have to rely on AC.

That is my plan, but it could well be that, during the summer months, it gets too hot even in underground in the mountains (climate change is scary, isn’t it?). If that happens, I may consider making my products seasonal – make them only during the winter.

Traditional freeze-dry tofu and pickled vegetables here are also made only during winters.

To allow the nature to take care of the creative process may be the key to sustainable manufacturing.

In the business of manufacturing and selling foods, it’s fairly easy for consumers to see how much economic impact each product has in the selling portion (packaging, transport etc.). As for manufacturing, there is no standard and transparency is unfortunately quite low.

If there is a certification that can easily show customers if a food product has been both manufactured and sold sustainably, it would be very helpful (but of course, that’s a whole different topic to think about…).

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