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May 31, 2008 03:24 AM

Packing cheese in a suitcase? How long will it last?

Ok, here's the story. I live in Bangladesh, a lovely country in many respects, but not an easy place to get specialty food items. I am going home to Chicago this summer and want to bring food back with me. Now, I've brought back things all sorts of things like pastas and coffee before, even some sausages, but I what I really miss is cheese. I am guessing that I could pop a couple kilos of parm in my suitcase with no ill effects, but is there a way to bring back yummy, runny, decadent cheeses? Or am I doomed to another six months of Kraft cheddar from the commissary?

I have one of those mylar bags that they sell at Whole Foods, but they are only supposed to store foods for 3-4 hours, not the 24+ hours of travel that I will be undertaking. I also have to be conscious of the airline weight limits, so filling a suitcase with ice blocks isn't an option. How does dry ice work? Will it keep food cool, or only frozen solid? Can I freeze cheese?

Any advice would be great! Thanks!

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  1. There' s also the question of customs - and whether they allow runny decadent cheese into the country.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cackalackie

      A friend of mine was able to bring multiple vacuum sealed packs of Gouda when she came back to Calgary for the holidays from Holland where she now lives. A substantially shorter flight, but she had no issues with customs.

    2. Pack hard, more cured cheeses. There is no way to pack runny yummies. I've been faced with the same problem for 35 years.

      1. cheese is way more durable than people pretend -- it is an aged product after all -- the french never refrigerate their cheese.

        now will your bag smell after 24 hours? yes. ut will the cheese still be edible - yes

        that said there are some nice local fresh cheeses in the ricotta salat/feta family in that part of the world

        3 Replies
        1. re: thew

          thew is exactly right. I often keep soft french cheeses at room temperature, under glass, for easily 5 days. I love them runny, and they don't change a bit. I'll bet even money that 99% of cheeses can safely go 24 hours without any refrigeration. The only exceptions I call out are St. Marcellin and Epoisses.
          As to customs? Your call. You can be an honest boy scout and declare in detail every innocous item you have and not leave the airport for 5 hours, without your dinner accouterments, or you can declare $50 of gifts and trinkets. It's not like you are bringing back seeds to plant or live fish to throw into your stream. You are a fellow cheese mouse, and we band together :)

          1. re: Veggo

            I second the ice brick/ice pack idea. I've done this with sausages and liverwust-type stuff, in the summer no less, and it was just fine. You can also get a small rolling cooler if you don't mind advertising what you're bringing- I've used those + the ice bricks (as my carry-on) with great results. Also, I've found that wrapping everything together really tightly helps- I assume that it reduces the warm air that can circulate around the foods. Get everything packed close together if you need it to stay cold.

            Just a note if you're considering bringing things back in to the US: US Customs still considers items like fresh soft cheeses a threat, so it IS like bringing back plants and seeds as far as they are concerned.

            "Bakery items, candy, chocolate, and cured cheese are generally admissible. Canned goods and goods in vacuum packed jars (other than those containing meat or poultry products)are also generally admissible if being imported for personal use.

            Dairy items such as milk, yogurt, butter are generally admissible, although this is subject to change, depending on disease outbreaks. Eggs may be admissible, although frequent outbreaks of Exotic Newcastles Disease and avian flu make it very likely that they will be denied entry. Hard cured cheese such as parmesan or cheddar are generally admissible, soft cheeses such as brie and soft curd cheese and cheese in water(ricotta, feta, etc.) are not.

            Failure to declare food products can result in a $10,000 fine."


            Now, I've brought back... ahem... things... just like most people do. But I do so with the knowledge that there IS a possibility that I will get the hardliner customs officer who knows all the rules and will impose that $10,000 fine.

            1. re: sfumato

              Thanks for all the info. I am really only concerned about transporting foods as I am leaving the country and I don't think US Customs cares about what I take out. The Bangladeshi customs officers have never so much as looked at me, let alone my luggage, so I am not too worried about being stopped for cheese. (I know someone who brought 17 bottles of hard liquor into the country this year; they just kind of ignore what the expats do.)

              Thanks for the packing advice though, I may have to bring a cooler on board.

        2. I've only brought cheese back from Mexico and it was packed in my bag for about 10 or 11 hours by the time I got home and was fine. I put it in one of those insulated lunch bags I carry when I fly with a hard Blue Ice brick in the bottom. It was fine, Blue Ice brick was still cold. I don't know how long your travel time is but hope this helps.

          1. Can you get a small insulated cooler? Make sure the cheese is well chilled before you begin the journey. If you check your bag it should be fine. The hold is generally a lot cooler than the cabin. The only worry is how long your bag will be in transit between the airport and your home. I regularly carry perishables from Europe/America to Singapore/Jakarta with no problem. Of course, delayed luggage could be a mess.