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Help with Packing Food for Airplane Travel!

I'm leaving this weekend, for a month-long trip to Israel with my girlfriend, and we'll be travelling in airports and planes a combined total of approx. 27hrs.

To make the exhausting and uncomfortable trip more enjoyable, we've decided to pack a picnic lunch and dinner, so as also to avoid the bland overpriced processed airport fare and the garbage they serve on flight.

I'm planning to pass by a local specialty cheese and charcuterie shop in San Francisco on Friday afternoon, to pick up enough to last us the full trip.

I would like to put together a platter of charcuteries including soppressatas, toscanos, salamettos, jamóns and prosciuttos.

I also plan to pick up a variety of cheeses, including a sharp cheddar, nutty chevre, creamy brie or camembert, smoked gouda, aged pecorino, woody fontina, buttery manchego, earthy gruyere, etc.

I'll be buying a fresh-baked country or walnut loaf from Tartine and pre-slicing it at home.

Some market fresh comice pears, purple grapes, walnuts and pistachios, roquette-arugula, water biscuits and crackers... and a bottle of Bollinger or something similar from the duty-free in SFO!

My only concern is: how to keep everything fresh?!?

This seems like a really fun and indulgent way to kick off a memorable vacation... but I don't want it to become impractical either!

I had considered freezing everything the night before, and pulling it out to defrost the next morning so that by the time we're in the sky mid-day, everything would be completely thawed and ready to dig in... but I imagine that would kill the flavors of the meats and cheeses!

I suppose I could try to pick up a freezer bag or small portable temp. controlled lunchbox of sorts, but does anyone have some easier home solutions to packing charcuteries and cheeses for flight?

I realize btw, that we will not be allowed to take any of this food into Israel, however until we land in TLV, we're flying entirely domestic (SFO-EWR-TLV).

Is it SAFE to wrap charcuteries and cheeses in brown paper and cloth and let them sit at room temperatures for many hours on end? I also don't want to be rude and stink up the plane! Luckily we're in a 2-seater aisle though.

I'd appreciate any and all advice!

Thanks so much

PS - If we were to pack a very small plastic supermarket salad dressing sized container of high quality balsamic and oil, would we get it through customs? I believe you are allowed up to a certain capacity of liquid, correct?

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  1. I like your style. I have a 4.7 liter and an 8.5 liter cooler that I routinely carry on aircraft, with neat stuff like you contemplate. I often include small frozen ice packs, and then discard them prior to TSA inspections. Your salad dressing, 3 oz. or less, should be stowed in your toiletries 1 quart Zip-Lock bag. Often there are lawful opportunities to add ice to the small coolers while in transit.
    Enjoy your trip!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Thanks Veggo and not a bad idea!

      I'm sure a small mini-cooler could come in handy while in the scorching oven that is the Middle East this time of year anyways!

      I guess we could request ice from the flight attendants as well while in the sky.... time to Google coolers in SF; seemed like such an obvious solution, duh! :)

      1. re: OliverB

        you can find many lunch box type coolers at Salvation army and other thrift stores. Throw them in the washing machine and let dry outside and they are good as new. Not a high investment (usually around .50) so if they get too much to carry just toss em.

      2. re: Veggo

        And re: disposable ice packs as per Veggo -- you can make your own cheaply: freeze water in a strong quart ziplock placed inside of another quart ziplock (or just fill inner bag with ice cubes). Dump before security line.

        You can ask for a cup of ice at a concession once inside airport (helpful to maybe buy a bottle of water there to grease the generosity, Then dump that ice into yet another quart ziploc (you did bring empties, no?). Makes you less susceptible to the vagaries of an irritated flight attendant.

        If you get a cooler, lean towards a lightweight soft-sider that collapses to fit into luggage when empty. Don't forget that when carried, it counts as a carry-on (sounds obvious but protests of "But that's just my lunch!" may not get you far). Line the inside with a few paper towels -- they'll control spills/leakage and become handy napkins/tissues when needed.

        1. re: DuchessNukem

          In this age when we are being gouged for baggage, any of my dive bags hold both of my small coolers, plus a weeks worth of clothes, in a carry-on. I often reserve the small, hard- wall cooler for sensitive items like cameras, electronics, and avocados.

        2. re: Veggo

          If the trip to your home airport is short enough, and the ice packs are still frozen solid with no apparent slush/liquid when you arrive at the checkpoint, they are acceptable in carry-on baggage. This is specifically mentioned on the TSA website (although as always, knowledge/application of the rules may vary from airport to airport, from agent to agent):
          http://www.tsa.gov/311/311-carry-ons....

          It's worth a try, anyway, if you want to keep your food nice and cold for the first leg of the journey. As others have said below, I wouldn't worry about charcuterie and hard cheeses even at room temperature for 24 hours. But if the cooler would be useful during the vacation, and maybe for bringing perishable items back from Israel, go for it.

        3. The food should be safe temperature wise - charcuterie and cheese are both methods of food preservation, and are fine for quite some time at room temp. I recently brought a pound of salami home from Seattle on a 12 hour, two plane trip. I asked the guys at the salumeria what would survive the trip in my suitcase, and they said anything would go as long as I didn't mind my clothes smelling like sausage...

          Please do be aware of the smell factor. I packed a lovely picnic for my trip out to Seattle, including my favorite aged gouda. I planned to eat it on the first leg of the trip as soon as the beverage carts rolled through. I cracked open the container, and immediately closed it. The cheese smelled much stronger on the plane than on the ground, and as much as I love it, I could not subject my seatmates to that aroma for 3 hours. Most airlines offer a fruit/cheese platter for sale now, so I would look to those for guidance on low odor cheeses - cheddar, brie, harvarti... avoid smoked cheeses, and strong hard cheeses.

          Small salad dressing containers will get through screening as they meet the 3oz/1 quart rule. REI sells small nalgene brand bottles in a variety of sizes, and they are fantastic for travel condiments. They are generally sold for toiletries, but are food safe. They are easier to open/close/reuse than disposable containers.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mpjmph

            Thanks so much!

            I'll try REI for both the Coleman and plastic containers! I've got some incredible balsamic from Bi-Rite earlier this year and amazing olive oil that I'd like to fill them with. First time I've ever been excited about food on a long flight! :)

          2. Bringing cheese is annoying. Every time I have had cheese in my hand-carry as a gift, my bag gets singled out for a hand search. I think it probably has a similar density to plastic explosives. Now, when I remember, I take it out along with my laptop.

            You can probably forget the duty-free bottle of Bollinger. I believe that every international flight I have been on has had the rule that you can only drink the alcohol that served by the flight attendants. I've read that most international flights these days have free beer and wine (even in economy), though.

            1. In a non food-specific point - I would be careful about having salty food (the meats) when flying to Israel. Depending on how your flights are staggered, if you're leaving from the US to Tel Aviv (as opposed to a layover in Europe), they don't let you take any bottled water with you on the plane. None. You can sneak on a bottle that you bought/filled up in the terminal, but you have to be sneaky because they do ask/look for all bottles of liquid before you board the plane. If you buy duty free liquids in the airport, they seal those for the duration of the flight too. I'm not entirely sure why, but that's the way it is (as of July 2012).

              Now on the planes you can get unlimited cups of water, but for a 9-11 hour flight, it's never really enough and I've never met a flight attendant kind enough to give me a whole bottle of water. So I just recommend being careful about salt intake however you're eating. Arriving in Tel Aviv in August dehydrated isn't the way I'd recommend starting a vacation.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cresyd

                Quick follow-up on the garbage they serve on the plane - I've never had a good meal on the flight, but at least for the US-Tel Aviv flights it does work on a functional level. I've never left the flight starving or sick (from the food). That being said, at this point I find the flight to be fairly devoid of romance and really just want to avoid feeling ill and sleep as much as possible.

                The other thing to keep in mind is that depending on the airline and the passengers seated near you, for the flight to Tel Aviv if you're obviously eating pork products on the plane - you may end up with less than pleasant people sitting near you. If you're flying El Al, I would strongly recommend being more aware of those issues than other airlines.

              2. I echo the sentiments about pork products on a Tel Aviv-bound flight. Not everyone will find your goodies delightful.

                I also echo the cautions about soft cheeses. Not only are soft cheese considerably more susceptible to spoilage and squishage, but let's be frank - they stink. A lot. Particularly chevre. Your neighbors are very likely to not be very happy about being cooped up next to the smell of the feet of angels for 10 hours.

                the mention upthread about drinking alcohol you've purchased is correct -- it's not allowed on any flight I've ever been on.

                Much as I agree with the sentiment, the reality is that the ice game is a major pain in the butt, and the cultural issues of this particular flight are going to just increase it. I don't like airplane food, either, but it might be easier to just take the path of least resistance here.

                2 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  I once bought a soft cheese in duty free for a flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv - a product completely sealed in plastic (both the packaging and the extra duty free "do not open until you land" bag) - and the smell was strong. Sitting in the overhead compartment strong. The cheese was great and arrived unspoiled, but I'm not sure if I'd ever do it again due to the embarrassment.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    I did it at Christmas -- took a wedge of Brie and a round of Camembert that I bought at the airport, because my regular cheese guy was closed (so it wasn't vacuum packed)

                    I opened the overhead bin in Miami and three of us staggered a little - -it was *rank*. No problem eating it, but p.u. (Soft cheese just gets more 'fragrant' at room temperature, even if it hasn't been out of refrigeration long enough to be harmed)

                    Made a note to myself to bring a couple of ziplocs the next trip.