I remember my years behind the cheese counter distinctly. But around the holidays, my days would blur together, with endless hours and perpetual lines of people needing cheese. One question was consistent, anxiety-ridden and almost deja vu-like in its repetitiveness: "I'm flying. I want to bring cheese. But can I?"
The simple answer is yes. But what is the best, most durable cheese to choose if refrigeration is nowhere in sight, and what won't instigate a seat change on the part of your neighbor?
Here, a quick rundown on some safe (and delicious) bets, even if your travel time is upwards of 8 hours.
Without refrigeration, some cheeses won't actually go bad in a rotten kind of way, it's that they'll go bad in a loss-of-integrity kind of way. And some cheeses are perfectly fine without any refrigeration at all, maintaining their true structure and flavor. But which are which?
When most semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses come up to room temperature, they become sweaty and leach out butterfat, which signals a loss of flavor and an inherrent change in moisture level. You can actually see this happen if you leave out a wedge for a bit too long-- it'll become shiny with dewey beads of butterfat. Sure, you can refrigerate them when you get them to your destination, but they'll never reabsorb that fat and flavor, and the cheese may have an unbalanced texture with a greasy exterior that's brittle beneath.
So while many cheeses won't go bad in the literal sense, there are some that are most definitely more durable than others.
Let's start with the good news. Cheeses that are great without refrigeration:
- Super-aged cheeses, most of which get more than two years of age: Goudas, Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave, Grana Padano, and Mimolette.
- Aged, smaller-format goat cheeses: These are drier cheeses to begin with, and unless they're very ripe and runny under the rind (which signifies a higher initial level of moisture or youth, both signifiers of increased perishability), they'll be fine. Try: Charollais, Chevrot, Vermont Butter and Cheese Coupole, and Chabichou du Poitou.
- Drier, semi-firm cheeses with thick, crust-like or inedible rinds: Castelmagno, Lancaster, aged pecorinos, mountain cheeses, aged cheddars, Cantal, Major Farm Vermont Shepherd, Podda Classico and aged Manchego.
And the bad news. Cheeses to stay away from:
- Washed Rind Varieties: Even if you somehow find a way to conceal their smell, these cheeses tend also to be softer, with soft rinds that can give way to the paste of the cheese as it warms. Unless you choose a harder washed rind, like Consider Bardwell Dorset or a washed rind mountain cheese like Hoch Ybrig, you may be left with a smooshy, smellier version of the cheese's former self.
- Fresh cheeses: These are the types that may actual start to sour if left out for too long. Fresh ricotta will become incredibly weepy, and a fresh goat cheese may begin to get a bit tangier than it probably should be.
- Semi-soft cheeses and Bloomy Rinded cheeses: Cheeses with a gummy, pudgey texture, like Pyrenees Brebis, younger styles of manchego, fontina, brie, and robiolas.
And if there's a certain cheese that you just can't travel without, remember that a couple of small icepacks will always do the trick. If you can just resist breaking into your selections before you get off the plane or out of the car, you'll be welcomed with warm reception.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: How Old Is Too Old? The Cheesemonger