Americans just can’t get enough of cheese. According to a statistical report on U.S. cheese market consumer goods, cheese consumption has been steadily increasing for years. The projected per-person consumption of cheese in the United States rounded out to 33.92 pounds in 2014 and is expected to grow to a hefty 37 pounds by 2025. And the United States now ranks second in the world in cheese production, behind the European Union.

Within the mix of our favorite blocks and slices of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Jack, there’s been an uptick of hand-crafted and specialty creations. According to Dairy Foods 2018, Cheese Outlook Study, all-natural, artisanal and organic are the hottest trends. 

Several more slightly under-the-radar cheese-making developments are in the news, too. One of the biggest? The rise of vegan cheese options. And remember cottage cheese? The not-so-popular curd has moved to the forefront thanks to the passion of some organic cheese makers who are churning out fine, creamy creations.

Plant-Based Cheese Is Totally Nuts

Can you really produce cheese without dairy milk? Of course. Nondairy cheeses are made from a variety of ingredients, including soy protein; solidified vegetable oils like coconut, palm or safflower; arrowroot; nutritional yeast; pea protein; and nuts, like almonds and cashews. 

Similar to dairy cheese, nut cheese is made via a process of fermentation and aging. A variety of brands are available, all with specialized techniques to create their own unique cheese profiles. One of those is Treeline Treenut Cheese. 

Founder and CEO Michael Schwarz wants to create a whole new plant-based cheese experience that doesn’t imitate any particular dairy cheese but uses traditional dairy cheese-making methods. “We start with a cashew cream—using the entire kernel, not just the milk—and carefully ferment it using probiotic cultures. This produces a creamy, smooth texture, with rich, natural fermented flavors often associated with fine dairy cheeses,” says Schwarz. He adds that the process takes time and patience. “But the results are worth it—a unique artisanal, plant-based cheese that just about anyone will happily enjoy alongside the best dairy cheeses.”

People with special diets who ordinarily cannot enjoy dairy may be able to eat nut cheese. In the case of Treeline Treenut Cheeses, they are 100 percent free from dairy, lactose, casein, gluten, soy and added oils. Treeline offers a range of soft, French-style nut cheeses, flavored with savory combinations such as chipotle morita flakes and smoky serrano pepper, or fine herbs and garlic, plus several aged hard cheeses perfect for a cheese platter with crackers. The latest innovations are a Premium New York Style Cream Cheese, ideal for slathering on bagels, and Hudson Valley Maple Walnut, which kids will love.

Heralded as the “Queen of Vegan Cheese,” Miyoko Schinner is an award-winning vegan chef and author of Artisan Vegan Cheese (Book Publishing Co., 2012). Her talents span into the world of cheese-making for the global good as well. As a lifelong vegetarian and an animal activist, she created a vegan cheese company (Miyoko’s) that not only produces delicious nut cheese, but also leads by example. Schinner’s mission is to inspire others to embrace the vegan lifestyle as a way of changing the world for the better.

On the Miyoko’s website (miyokos.com), vegan cheese enthusiasts can view recipes to try with the brand’s numerous nondairy cheeses. A favorite is the “Vegan Mozz,” a vegan version of mozzarella, designed to flavor Italian dishes, from lasagna and pizza to panini or Caprese. There’s an assortment of artisanal crafted cheese wheels, too—even one wrapped in wine-cured fig leaves. 

Cottage Cheese Is the Comeback Kid

Dubbed for years as a diet food, paired with fruit salad or sliced tomatoes, cheesy curds and whey has a new story to tell. No longer will it remain as bland pint or quart containers sandwiched next to sour cream. Full of nutrient-dense protein, cottage cheese can stand up to almost any main dish, acting as a stand-in snack when super-busy folks can’t sit down for a meal. 

To create an “uncottage” image is the goal of some producers. Their techniques include providing more variations of packaging, such as smaller single-size portions, and embellishing the curds with trendy flavors like habanero chile or kalamata olive. While the curds are getting dressed up with flavors, some creative cheese-makers are focusing on crafting delicious, high-quality cottage cheese. 

Enter, Good Culture organic cottage cheese. “We searched for a great-tasting cottage cheese that wasn’t loaded with additives, hormones and milk from confined animals, and ultimately decided to create our own,” says CEO and cofounder Jesse Merrill. “It was time to disrupt the very sleepy cottage cheese category with relevant innovation for today’s and tomorrow’s consumer.”

Good Culture’s creation, in flavors from sweet to savory, is made from a proprietary small and soft curd recipe, resulting in a thicker, creamier cottage cheese that isn’t slimy or soupy. The brand doesn’t skimp on ingredients or the way they treat their dairy cows either. The cottage cheese is produced from grass-fed milk from pasture-raised cows that roam free on sustainable family farms, live and active cultures, mineral-rich Celtic sea salt, and no additives (stabilizers, thickeners, artificial preservatives), with 16 to 19 grams of protein in a serving.

Good Farming Practices = Happy, Healthy Cows

Not all dairy farms are created equal, especially when it comes to the treatment of animals and sustainable farming. Increasingly, consumers are looking to brands to be more transparent with their practices, asking questions such as: How are cows confined? How much time are the cows allowed outside to roam free or pasture-graze? What are the birthing methods? What type of diet are they fed? Is the land being sustainably farmed?

A number of dairy companies address these questions on their websites, including Horizon Organic, which displays a “Standards of Care” guide informing readers about the strict regulations required of their 700 partner organic farms.

Here are a few of Horizon’s standards:

  •  Dairy cows graze on organic pastures at least 120 days of the year during the grazing season.
  •  Pastures are carefully managed as a crop, and farmers must adhere to practices that enhance and protect soil and water quality.
  •  Cows move about freely and are not confined to tiny cells.
  •  A birthing and maternity area provides a hygienic, stress-free environment for pregnant cows.  

Lactose Intolerant?
Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses are the most lactose-intolerant-friendly cheeses. Why? According to James Mares, the glucose molecules in the milk are much finer than in cow’s milk, which allows for easier digestion.