Skip to main content

Mountain Home Magazine

Smile and Say Cheese

Nov 01, 2019 10:30AM
by Laurie Mercer


Assuming you are the kind of person who likes to read food labels, the label on the newly introduced Craigs Creamery cheese, founded by eight local New York family dairies, gives tantalizing hints to the full, environmentally friendly story: “Our creamery is powered by renewable energy from our own biodigester.” Here's how it happens.

Seventh-generation farmer (and former Manhattan-based financial guy) Chris Noble, vice president of the Livingston County-based Noblehurst Farms (linwoodag.com), is the driving force behind Natural Upcycling, a service that helps alleviate the problem of uneaten food waste. The bad news for all of us is that, from farm to table, 40 percent of the food supply is wasted. Diverting that food from landfills to a biodigester will help reduce methane gas in the air we breathe. The digester (imagine a red, circus-tent-like structure with no charm) sits on some pricey real estate. This is not a compost pile. The 440-kilowatt facility includes a concrete tank, 100 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep, sunk to 10 feet below grade. The total cost is $3.2 million, including a $497,520 grant.

“If a business isn't growing, it’s dying,” Chris says in reference to their significant investment in tech.

But, in order to get the food waste to the digester, Chris had to create a specialized trucking company.

Research at Rochester Institute of Technology indicates that it is only economically feasible to haul waste within 100 miles of a digester. Natural Upcycling collects food waste from Wegmans stores in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and the Syracuse corridor, and from smaller facilities like a jail in Hopewell and a public school in Pavilion where young kids were quick to learn how to separate their leftovers. By the time they graduate, it will be second nature. Food waste is trucked to the Noblehurst operation where the incoming non-edibles are scooped, so to speak, and deposited onto a conveyor belt—the gatekeeper to the digester process.

From conveyor belt to power takes about 28 days.

Because they service tote-based customers who will return those totes to their stores, Chris’s trucks are even “somewhat self-cleaning.” While some food is still looking pretty tasty as it climbs up the conveyor belt to its doom, cow manure is added using a computer formula Chris constantly monitors and tweaks. The resulting electricity fuels the energy-burning dairy, family homes, and the new 30,000-square-foot, $50 million cheese-making plant, established in partnership with Arla Foods, a Denmark-based cooperative and the fifth largest dairy company in the world, and Dairy Farmers of America.

Chris says that at his farm alone, they can divert 500 tons of waste from landfills every month, eliminating 409 tons of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of taking 1,046 gas guzzlers off the road.

And the packing that we try so hard to get rid of—a river of plastic, a mountain made from cardboard, and a tsunami of foil, caps, bottles, and cans—becomes putty in the Craigs Creamery workers’ hands as they separate canned and packaged foodstuffs from layers of mostly useless, polluting, waste.

Enter Arla Foods.

It’s always good to have friends, and for Noblehurst Farms and their seven other family-owned dairy partners, hooking up with Arla Foods was a game changer. The type of cheese that Arla could not produce in the U.S. is a natural for upstate New York. Constructing a $50-million cheese-making plant is beyond the pale, so to speak, for today’s dairy industry where they have nut “milks” and shaky trade agreements to contend with. So it’s from forming positive, working relationships with friends abroad that new artisan foods, the ones that, like Craigs Creamery make, are gaining coveted refrigerated shelf space in stores.

Currently the Craigs Creamery assortment includes flavorful blocks, slices, and shredded cheeses in cheddar types, Muenster, and whole milk mozzarella. Will consumers pay $4.29 for 7 ounces of pure, low-moisture, shredded whole milk mozzarella from local cows? I certainly will. It tastes great, is environmentally friendly, and is produced by adventurous regional farmers who are now partnering with their bovines in a different and sustainable way.

Noblehurst Farms employs 120 people, forty of whom work directly on the farm, with cheese-making just part of the operation. The family’s mission statement highlights land stewardship and respect for one’s neighbors. They might add hands-on farming practices that reflect personal responsibility for a planet at risk.

At craigscreamery.com, plug in a zip code on the tab for “store locator” and you'll find area Tops stores that have Craigs Creamery cheeses, including Elmira, at 830 Consumer Service Plaza; Watkins Glen, at 504 1⁄2 Franklin Street; Penn Yan, at 321 Liberty Street; Corning, at 360 W. Pultney Street; and Wellsboro, at 11 Main Street.