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Bringing meats and cheeses back from France

Dear Hounds: I'm having one of my co-workers bring back cheeses and sausissons back from France. Two questions. Are there still issues with USDA and if so which ones are allowed. Also, recommendations on cheeses and meats that might survive the journey well. Thanks for your help.

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  1. It's pretty much hit or miss as far as catching you, but generally meat products and unpasteurized cheeses are prohibited. Having said that I've brought back some salamis (at my own risk, clearly), as well as tinned foie gras, which is or isn't allowed, depending on which way the wind s blowing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      What ferret said -- I have successfully brought back 7 pounds of cheese and 2 pounds of meat. But I was willing to risk having them taken away from me and was rewarded for the risk. But it could have gone the other way.

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Thanks all for the advice. I have suggested that she bring only vacuum packed cheeses aged at least 60 days. It's for a work party for the following week. As much as I drool over real saucisson, it' not worth putting her through the Spanish inquisition tactic that is our welcome wagon to this country.

    2. I know things have to be vacuumed packed, can't just wrap up a nice piece of cheese and bring it back. Hope this co-worker is also a good friend because this could be a real pain for them depending on who they get coming through US customs because like ferret said the rules seem to change depending on who you talk to...and all that matters is who you get at the gate.

      1. hard cheeses (like Parmesan) are completely legal.

        Soft cheeses start to get a little iffy -- raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days are illegal, but it seems to not be so tough to sidestep.

        Pork products are absolutely, positively prohibited -- UNLESS they are in a hermetically-sealed package with an expiration date at least 3 years from the date of packaging (like pate or rillettes). The expiration date MUST be printed, not handwritten.

        Biggest reason to make sure your softer cheeses are vacuum-packed is because they freaking STINK, especially after having been unrefrigerated for 24 hours or more. (not saying it makes them unsafe, mind...just that they get *very* fragrant). You don't want to know how long it takes to get the funk of good goat cheese out of your clothes and your luggage...and your fellow passengers would not find a smelly carryon pleasant at all.

        Foie gras is *technically* outside of the regs (meaning it's no problem to bring it in), particularly if they're commercially packaged (tins or glass jars)...whether or not the customs agent is swift enough to figure this out is a crapshoot. If they're not that swift, you still have a chance of them being agreeable about it (Is it meat? It's goose liver. But is it meat? It's goose liver. I know it's goose liver, but is it meat? *jet lag clears for a moment* No, it's not meat. Welcome back home.)

        3 Replies
        1. re: sunshine842

          My husband and I came back from Europe with some "questionable" meat products. Just as they were about to ask us about them, the sniffing dog freaked out over the woman behind us so they let us go. We would like to thank the old woman with the overcoat stuffed with dried sausages for giving us the chance to get our things through.

          1. re: sunshine842

            Going to disagree with you on fois. Tinned OK, glass not OK. Any meat products are not OK, never heard of the 3 year rule. The things the officer asks concern liquor, tobacco, and meat. There are 2 kinds of inspectors, most are ATF, thus the tobacco and liquor, they care about nothing else. There are a few USDA, they care about seeds, cheeses, and thus the 60 day rule.
            lf l would bring back meat it would be poitrine de fume, French bacon, but have never been not asked about meat. l always bring back a lot of cheese and no problems ever, that is twice a year for 25 years.
            Dogs can smell cheese in multiple layers of plastic and hermetically sealed. Originally dealers wrapped drugs in cheese to mask the drug smell. Never had a dog bother me.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              I had a girlfriend come back from Austria while her husband stayed behind with his family. After she got home in New England, he called and asked her to check inside her skiing boot. There she found a large piece of Speck. Furious, she asked her husband why he hadn't told her it was there. "Because you would have gotten nervous and they would have caught you."

          2. Risk also depends on airport you enter through. Kennedy tough, O'hare not so tough.

            1. Personally I would never ask anyone to do this for me. It will greatly increase the chance that your co-worker will have to go through inspection.

              1. My friends and I have brought back (cured) meat, pate and cheese on numerous occasions from france - we just don't bother declaring it and go right through customs. Never been an issue..

                They should all be able to survive the ride home, plane cargos are freezing cold..

                1. I've brought back canned Alsatian goose, pork, and duck liver pate three times on flights from Frankfurt to New York. I've never had a problem, but on the other hand, I always get diverted by the regular customs guy to some special FDA (I'm guessing) line. Once I show the inspector there the canned pate, he/she immediately loses interest and I am on my way.

                  1. We brought back almost 10 lb of cheese from France in November, probably close to the same in cured meats, and a few lb of tinned items, and some fresh truffle. No issues. If you bring fresher cheese, quadruple wrap in foil, plastic wrap, baggies, and put it in with your dirty clothes. You can't tell the clothes stink from the cheese stink!