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Apr 2, 2009 10:43 AM

Bringing Cheese Back

Hello All,

I am going to go back to the US for a visit and I would like to bring back the gift of French Cheese. You have been so kind as to give me your opinions as to what to try and where to get it. Now I am curious about your experiences with traveling with it. The US customs site is a little vague stating " 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." Have you had any experience with the "generally" aspect? How should I best pack it? Are there some types that travel better than others? I head that some fromagiers will vacuum pack permissible cheeses. My best friend in the world is having a cheese tasting party on the day I get back and I would love to bring something good. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Skip down to the third to the last paragraph in the post which I am linking: I just brought back four kilos of cheese from Italy to the U. S. All of it was vacuum packed where I bought it. All of it survived perfectly. None of it triggered any kind of alarm or hungry dog at the port of entry, Dulles airport. Included in this was Reggiano, gorgonzola dolce (a triple creme), a double creme, several hard cheeses AND proscuitto. If it is properly vacuum packed you should not have a problem.

    1. My comment probably won't help you, but recently, I returned to Chicago from Paris and brought cheese with me. Air France had no objection, and the customs officials in Chicago, when I declared the cheese, waved me thru without bothering to look.

      Other chowhounds who travel more often will give you better advice, but I would hope that the officials would be reasonable in whichever city you're visiting.

      1. I always bring stuff in. Declaring it is asking for troubles, though no one ever had some. The real question is what cheese travel well, and there, I would advise that you trust your cheese shop. The Saint Nectaire I brought last time travelled perfectly. Contrariwise to popular belief, hard cheeses, who need to breathe and don't like temperature changes, do not travel so well (try Comté in Franche-Comté one day -- it tastes different).

        1. There's some minimum amound of aging required for unpasteurized cheeses, and I think fresh cheeses and other dairy products like ricotta are not allowed. If you just tell them it's aged cheese (if they even ask), you shouldn't have any problems.

          As for declaring, I'd use your judgement. Oftentimes there is a very long line to get through normal customs, and a couple of bored officials with nothing to do staffing the agricultural line. Even if I'm not going to be taking anything else, I've taken to bringing some confit de canard or pâté on trips to the US, just to jump over to the short agricultural line.

          Oh, and I'm with souphie about the soft cheeses vs hard ones. That said, a slice of mimolette would be a good idea, even if it does suffer a bit, just to stand out among the other cheeses, looking like a slice of melon.

          1. Two or three times a year I bring back 2-4 cheeses, maybe 2 kilos worth. Usually it comes from Alléosse, which does not have a vacuum packing machine. Sometimes I get cheese from different fromagers who do pack sous vide. I have never had any problem or delay at customs, and I always declare the cheese.

            Years ago, the Dept. of Agriculture person at Chicago customs said there is no problem with cheese unless -- maybe -- it`s really smelly. She said that on the front page of the declaration form, where it asks if you have fruit, meat, dairy, or food, to say no. On the back of the form, where you list your purchases, do declare it. The front page is for stuff this is fresh or raw, was her explanation. The back page is for declaring anything at all that you purchased and are bringing back.

            I have always followed this advice. For example, when I cleared at Dulles a couple of weeks ago, the agent read my declaration and said: 'Sweets and cheeses; anything else?" I said no and he waved me through.

            Having said that, here are two cautions: First, I think the comment about cheeses in liquids is well taken. The liquid will make it look raw, so I'd probably avoid ricotta, feta in brine, etc.

            Second, soft cheese should never be taken as carry on. It isn't customs who will stop you. It's security. It's like a gel - could easily conceal an explosive.