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vacuum-packing cheese? any tips?

hey there, i'm in paris for a week with my sister and plan on bringing back some cheese. actually, i'd love to bring back as much cheese as i can!

the complications:
1. i live in bangkok (not worried about customs but about weather)
2. i have a 12 hour layover in istanbul on my way back.

generally we prefer blues and goats (plus i just sent my husband home from amsterdam with a few kilos of hard cheese!), but i've never had soft cheese vacuum packed and i'm wondering how that even works. doesn't it smush? how long does it last if vacuum packed? i know that rinded soft cheeses can last weeks if not cut, would it be better to try to buy cheese that way?

so confused...

thanks. :-)

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  1. Sometime ago there was a lively discussion about cheeses and which could travel and how. My recollection is that soft cheeses won't make it, but that could be all wrong.

    Hopefully my response will kick your question back to the top where someone with better knowledge on the subject might take notice and offer advice.

    Good luck to you!

    1. The non-gooey goats as those from the Loire area, like young Pouligny St Pierre, or young Valencay are fine or Burgundy goat as Claquebitou also. Softs like camembert and Epoisses come in their own box so should work. Also all hard as old comte and mimolette. Go to a place like Dubois and they plastic pack the product so no exterior leakage will occur. The ones that probably will not work are the triple cremes as Gratte Paille and Brillat-Savarin. Would suspect even a unwrapped soft as Maroilles or Vieux Lille will work when platic shrunk wrapped. Not as good as fresh but close.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        We bring home all kinds of cheeses and have never had a problem with quality. What I find most useful is our taking along a tupperware box from home (filled with breakfast cereal on the outbound) and packing the cheeses in it on the return. This way, there is no possibility of squashing. Epoisses boxes often give way in transit even though shrink wrapped, and softer cheeses are easy targets. Remember that TSA will have its way with your luggage, so try to pack accordingly.

        1. re: mangeur

          Excellent suggestion if you have the room for the Tupperware. TSA only permits firm cheeses in carry-on, thus it is safer to pack all in checked luggage. This time of year getting cooler and while not optimum, temp should not too adversely affect cheese.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Think of it as storage for something that won't be coming back: some kind of food you will be consuming, gifts for friends, even bubble pack for other return items. We always try to go outbound with less than we plan to return with.

            BTW, after having TSA unwrap bubble wrapped wine bottles...and put them back in our luggage without the wrapper...on my last trip I took a long a couple of those neopreme (wet suit material) wine carriers. I put a bottle in each of the pockets of a double carrier and they travelled perfectly. It's pretty easy for an inspector to pull out the bottle and simply push it back in and return it to its nest.

            1. re: mangeur

              On that regard, l bring over a styrofoam container.If little luggage, yeah that happens, a whole case one, if usual luggage grief a half case one.

      2. I've taken vacuum packed cheese home with me many times with great success....however, I've only had a ~8 hour nonstop flight. I wonder if you could put a sealed bag of ice (or dry ice?) into your suitcase with the cheese.

        3 Replies
        1. re: WtotheN

          During a flight once I aked the attendants to keep me supplied in dry ice, - for a jar of fresh pesto sauce. The attendants graciously complied. But dry ice does eventually melt (vanish) which meant that every few hours I had to keep asking for more dry ice, which meant that for that flight from SF to HK I never slept.
          (Am still surprised that the fed-up staff did not put me on the no fly list for life.)
          Are you ready to sacrifice sleep on your long flight home?
          Not to mention that the texture and taste of many cheeses really do not survive refrigeration so well…

          1. re: Parigi

            Parigi, forgive me, but I'm curious: do airplanes fly with dry ice? If so, why? And how did you know?

            1. re: vielleanglaise

              Airlines stock dry ice to keep things cold, and it does not occupy space or weight, sth like that, I guess.
              How did I know? I didn't. I asked for ice and was given dry ice (plus increasingly nasty glare, which was free of charge).

        2. I have vacuum packed all sorts of cheese and travelled by air with no problems. Sometimes they get a bit squashed but that rarely impacts the taste. You will need to pack them in you hold baggage not carry on, hopefully when you layover in Istanbul the bags are stored in a reasonably cool area, the vacuum packing will slow down deterioration but heat isn't great for the structure of the cheese.

          A good tip: when you buy the soft cheese make certain you ask for cheese that will be ready to eat in a few days time. A good cheese shop in Paris will have some ready to eat that day, some the next and so. Obviously the less ripe ones will travel best and last longer.

          Second tip: with soft cheeses especialy goats buy whole rounds, they will travel better.

          Third tip: don't buy too much, I always do and never manage to eat it all whilst in peak condition and I imagine the heat and humidity in Bangkok will mean you need to keep it in the fridge so it won't be perfect. A few good soft cheese eaten quickly then some hard to enjoy at leisure may be best.

          Obviously the TSA doesn't operate in France or Turkey but local border aviation security authorities do have similar rules about foodstuffs (liquids/gels) being packed in hand luggage and thus are unlikely to allow vacuum packed cheese through security. I have heard stories of security at CDG being less strict about cheese but I wouldn't take a chance on security in Istanbul which you will need to clear again as you transfer between flights. So pack the cheese in your hold baggage.

          1 Reply
          1. re: PhilD

            thanks so much everyone. these are super helpful!

          2. hey there, just wanted to leave this note for posterity. i ended up at the fromagerie on rue cler (barthelemy was closed on tuesday and we were staying just a few blocks from rue cler anyway). the clerk was both grumpy and super helpful at the same time. we discussed which cheeses would pack best and last longest once home, and settled on an assortment of goats and blues, plus a camembert (for strategic reasons, since the vacuum packaging needed something sturdy in the middle). she asked for my budget and kept track of prices to keep me just under it. then she vacuum packed everything in one package.

            she told me to open it immediately when i got home and stick the cheese in with my vegetables in the fridge. :-) i didn't leave paris till early the next day, so kept the package in the fridge in paris till i left. then i stuck it in my checked bag, where it remained for about 22 hours. when i arrived back in bangkok yesterday the only cheese that didn't hold up very well was the blue. the oil in the blue had seeped through the paper and it was very soft (still tasted great tho!). the goats, all individual pieces, are fine if a little smushed.

            2 Replies
            1. re: justintime

              Your post rings several bells. Not on rue Cler, but just around the corner, the only poor cheese service we have received (intrusive, hasty) was at Cantin. In addition, second bell, our cheesemonger vacuum packed everything together which is efficient for them but not for me. And the Epoisses was 2€ more expensive than at Ferme St. Hubert and to add insult to injury, of pasteurized milk.

              Convenient and famous, but not the best cheese source in Paris by a long shot.

              1. re: mangeur

                As mangeur says, ask for separately-wrapped vacuum packs. Last night we finally opened our latest stash from Dubois, which came home almost two weeks ago in our checked luggage (and still was cold when we unpacked despite the CDG-SFO transit): Healthy slabs of 4-year-old Comte (which had been set out at the shop in cubes for tasting -- great crystals, although they don't show up in the picture, to the right), and 5-year-old Gruyere (incredible, nutty-nutty, just amazing, pictured on left -- thanks to DCM for encouraging us to get that one). We cut the noses off each and took them to friends' for dinner, and now we will slice away at the remainder in the next many weeks.

                Also included in the middle of our checked luggage: 4 varieties of Bordier, still cold and in fine shape in our Tupperware; and unpasturized mustards from Maille. (Thanks for those and other tips, mangeur.)

                PS: And as usual, we declared it all -- no problem. (Well, I may have forgotten to write the word unpasturized.)