Friday, August 1, 2014

Frugal Friday -- wrapping food

Here's my latest experiment in my Trash Reduction Food Storage Techniques: how to wrap (for the freezer) cheese, greens, and other things that I'd previously have put in plastic bags.

But first, as sort of a recap, here are a few pointers to other ways I buy/store food in attempts to be trash-less, or at least to make less trash:
When I can't figure out how to buy something in a way that is packaging-free, I at least try to buy a large size and then divvy it up into smaller containers at home.  (Larger sizes have a smaller "packaging-to-volume ratio".)   So I'll buy 25-pound bags of flour, 10-pound bags of oats, giant bags of rice . . . and transfer these to air-tight glass jars so I can use a bit at a time.  

But hamburger and cheese, well, those have been a different kind of storage challenge.  In theory, I could buy these at market and ask the stall owners to place the food in pyrex instead of plastic . . . but in practice, this doesn't always work.  

In addition, meats and cheeses from my local market are pricey compared to buying bulk, closer to the source.  Cheese at market, for example, tends to run $7 or more per pound.  Compare that to the giant block of cheese below: organic, locally produced cheese at $2.64/pound.  I get this block from an Amish store a full seventeen miles away from home (the same one where I buy my flour & oats), meaning I try to go there only every three months or so.  But when I do go, it's worth it!

Here's how  I've been storing the cheese for long-term use.  I cut it into roughly pound-sized pieces, and then wrap it with that a mylar wrap (the stuff that looks like aluminum foil, behind the cheese).
I just wrap the cheese like it's a present.   I don't bother to tape or tie the packages off . . .
. . . instead I just stack them back into one of those inevitable bags we have lying around.  I add a paper label ("cheese") and stick this in the freezer.  Two or three of these packages will last our family quite a while, and the freezer doesn't seem to mess with the taste of the cheese.

Q: Okay, where did I get these mylar sheets?

A: At a marathon.  These are the "blankets" that runners get at the end of the race to keep them warm.  I didn't take one myself (because I just couldn't stomach the idea of wrapping myself in trash), but other racers take them and discard them, and my cheese wraps are cut out of a "blanket" that I rescued before it made its way into a trash bin.

So, there are several disadvantages to using mylar wrap instead of plastic bags.

  1. I don't actually know whether this is "food grade".   I don't really care, especially because I never heat food in this wrap, but I can't go around suggesting other people follow my lead.
  2. The wrap isn't see-through.  Labeling the packages is important, or you won't know what's inside.

But there are also, to my mind, many advantages over little baggies.
  1. The mylar seems to naturally sit right up against the food and wrap tight against it.  I don't have to "suck the air" out, and I haven't had any issues at all with freezer burn.
  2. For similar reasons, I've never had cheese wrapped in mylar get those dried-out edges in the fridge that seems to happen when someone doesn't seal a ziploc bag properly.
  3. It's really easy to wash off a flat mylar sheet, especially compared to washing a greasy bag with corners.
  4. It's really easy to hang-dry a washed mylar sheet, whereas when I dry plastic bags I always have to turn it inside out and make sure it gets air all around.
  5. Storage is simpler.   Reusing plastic bags means I'm always sorting through a motley collection of used and/or new bags: is this a ziploc?  A fold-over top?  Is this the right size?  Do I care if it has holes?  In contrast, the mylar sheets fold flat into a nice little pile.  
  6. My mylar is rescued from (just before it went into) a dumpster, not specially-purchased new materials.  Using these sheets doesn't create waste.  
We've used these mylar sheets for other things besides cheese, including packing sandwiches for long car trips.  Surprisingly, this works well even for wet-ish things:  I've used this for freezing kale, collard greens, and bok choy (just blanch the greens, drain in a colander, squeeze into "patties", and then wrap).  

Since I've been through about two years of using mylar wraps now, I'd say this experiment is a qualified success.  It's not perfect enough that I've given up looking for alternatives, but good enough that I'm happy to give up on baggies from now on.

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