Hot Tips: How To Travel With Cheese

The Cheesemonger

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Sometimes, if you're traveling, and always, if you're a cheese fiend, bringing your own cheese is the way to go.

Whether you're going to the beach or the woods where cheese selection might be spotty or you're visiting your hometown with nary a cheese shop in sight, you might want to take note of these notes on how best to transport your little gems. You might be surprised at just how far you can bring your cheese.

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Think about it: Refrigeration is a modern invention. Before such innovation, cheesemakers made cheeses that could be held at cellar temperature for months at a time. Fresh cheeses were held in cellars for a couple of days, made strictly for immediate consumption. They'd be made up to a day ahead, though. So truly, cheeses just aren't as limited to the interior of a refrigerator as we think.

It's our modern sensibilities that coerce us into believing that cheese is so perishable. It's really, just, not.

I can't think of many cheeses that wouldn't survive an 8-hour journey without refrigeration. Especially if you're on a plane, where cabin temperatures are kept pretty chilly, you don't have much to worry about. It takes longer than your average day of travel for a cheese to spoil. 

Cheese makes such a great hostess gift, not to mention a super simple thing to have on hand for your holiday cocktail hour. Stow them properly and you'll never have to fear going cheese-less on vacation.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Harder cheeses are less perishable. Gruyere, Appenzeller, Hoch Ybrig, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Toussaint are all firm cheeses that have already been aged for at least 5 months. Their levels of moisture (which is what ultimately brings on bacteria, and thus, what makes cheese rot) are super low. Feel fine about keeping these cheeses out of refrigeration for up to a day or — in the case of Parmesan, aged pecorinos, and super aged goudas — even more.

  • Fresher cheeses leach moisture. Keep these guys well-wrapped. A fresh ricotta, fresh goat cheese, or fresh mozzarella will become watery (actually, whey-y) as they sit out. That's fine, but just prepare yourself. Keep them in durable containers, wrapped in plastic, and then wrapped again.

  • Tin foil offers protection: Unless we're talking about blue cheese, I tend not to wrap cheese directly in foil. But if you use foil around the wrapping that's already in place, it can offer a nice buffer during a bumpy ride.

  • Travel with individual-format cheeses: Buy cheeses like Camembert, St. Marcellin, and Petit Freres, which come in little wooden boxes or porcelain ramekins. They'll hold their shapes best, and these also make for the cutest hostess gifts, if need be.

  • Semi-soft and washed rind cheeses aren't the best picks for long trips. Even though these aren't highly perishable cheesess, they may suffer in other ways. Washed-rind cheeses, like Winnemere, Epoisses, and Taleggio tend to be the stinkiest, and they'll begin to reek more and more the longer they're out of refrigeration. And semi-soft cheeses, like Pyrenees Brebis and Manchego, can begin to leach butterfat (and thus, flavor), as they come to room temp. This is indicated by a shiny slick of beading on the surface of the cheese. If you really want to bring these types of cheeses along, pack them carefully, sitting at the tops of your bags and wrapped well (and perhaps within other plastic bags, too), and pack them among some ice packs to keep that flavor intact.

Do you have any cheese travel tips to share?

(Images: Flickr member ilkerender licensed for use under Creative Commons; Flickr member Ernie Hathaway licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.