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Jan 9, 2013 08:06 PM

U. S. Border Patrol Seizes 230 Pounds of Cheese

“Individuals can import personal quantities of cheese – something in the 10 pound range,” said Joane Thale-Lembo, CBP Santa Teresa Port Director. “This shipment certainly exceeded that quantity and was therefore seized and destroyed.”

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    1. re: waxyjax

      I agree. But what was of greater interest to me was to get a sense of what border agents consider a personal amount of cheese to bring into the country.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        10 pounds is still hella lotta cheese.

        (I would imagine that it would be marginally different, too, if were 15 pounds of assorted cheeses, each in a fairly small quantity....)

        1. re: sunshine842

          When l returned to the states in December, l brought @ 18 kilos, about 40 pounds. Declared it, no one looked, no one cared.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            yeah -- it's 10 pounds for THAT agent on the day of the interview.

            Next week, when he's had a fight with his wife, it'll be 6.

            Next month, after he's gotten a raise, it'll be 50.

            You. just. never. know.

            1. re: sunshine842

              That just isn't true. The limit for personal use is defined by regulation. It's actually 5 kg or 11 lb:


            2. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Then the agents weren't being diligent. Did you declare it on your customs form?

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            The agents don't decide such things. They merely enforce the regulations which have been adopted. They have to apply them fairly.

            1. re: GH1618

              Not only do they decide the interpretation of the law on the spot, the enforcement varies widely from day to day, inspector to inspector, and entry port to entry port.

              (20 years of international sales, international logistics, and international travel tends to learn ya fast on stuff like this. What breezes through customs today gets held up or confiscated next week.)

              1. re: sunshine842

                Certainly things get through which should be confiscated. The inspectors cannot be perfect, especially when travelers are dishonest in their declarations. The more important question is whether customs agents will confiscate something which is allowed under the regulations. I doubt there is much of this in US Customs.

                1. re: GH1618

                  then you don't travel internationally much, and you don't move much international freight.

                  It happens all the time. -- both confiscating that which should have been allowed, and allowing what should have been confiscated.

                  I agree that they *should* implement the rules consistently and fairly -- but it just ain't that way.

                  (and don't get me started on TSA)

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Perhaps, but there is nothing wrong here. The personal limit is 11 lbs of cheese and they found more than 200 lbs. They should have confiscated it and they did.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Anyone remember the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy's bringing a big provolone-like cheese back from Europe? As I recall, to avoid paying duty when she gets to the U.S., she tries to disguise it as a baby, learns that she'll have to pay for the baby to travel and ends up eating the cheese.......very complicated!

          3. re: waxyjax


            What kind of cheese is that? Looks like a fresh Mexican 'queso blanco', in individual unlabeled plastic bags. The only way this could be for 'personal consumption' is if the guy was throwing a large party for his extended family. More likely it was intended for his 'carniceria'.

            1. re: paulj

              I agree it is most likely harmless queso blanco intended for re-sale. But our always vigilant Border Patrol spared us from the possibility of IEQ's (Improvised Explosive Quesadillas)...

          4. While anti-terrorism is the primary mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the inspection process at the ports of entry associated with this mission results in impressive numbers of enforcement actions in all categories.
            What an expensive lesson for the "cheese" category!

            5 Replies
            1. re: HillJ

              CBP is indeed focused on anti-terrorism, but the FDA has active inspectors at major borders as well -- and they have Labs and Shepherds behind the scene to sniff out contraband -- the adorable little beagles in their little green coats are to make sure you're not carrying in agricultural bad guys in your coat, purse, or carryon luggage.

              1. re: sunshine842

                suns, my bro is a DEA guy @ the airport...I've heard enough stories to last a lifetime.

                1. re: HillJ

                  I'm only a standard-issue schlepper - and I've seen enough stuff first-hand to make me really not want to know what he's seen!

                2. re: sunshine842

                  The dogs are CBP "agents" enforcing USDA regs about importation of food/agricultural products. Until 2003, APHIS did inspections.

                  Interesting history of Animal and Plant Health Inspections here:

                3. re: HillJ

                  Customs was around long before terrorism became an issue. In the early days of the USA, customs duties were the primary source of income for the federal government. The Coast Guard was set up primarily to counter smuglers.

                  "The Coast Guard's official history began on 4 August 1790 when President George Washington signed the Tariff Act that authorized the construction of ten vessels, referred to as "cutters," to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling.... "

                4. So much for the idea of stuffing a wheel of parm in the carry on. ;-(

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: TraderJoe

                    A wheel of Parm weighs 80 to 90 pounds, not exactly something I'd want to lift up to the overhead bin on an airplane. :-)

                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                      I would imagine the magnificent perfume of a 'now' warm wheel in the overhead would invite hunger pains cabinwide--not exactly a silent cheese.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        oh, you don't want to know how bad a 6-ounce wedge of Brie can smell up an entire cabin. Even in the factory packaging, wrapped in foil, encased in a plastic bag, rolled into a sweater, and zipped into a backpack.

                        People were looking at me like I had a body in there. A rather badly decayed body.

                        I love my French cheeses, but dayum.

                        Next time it's double freezer ziplocs, and in my checked luggage.

                        (my fromager was closed for a family emergency, so I had to buy it at the airport on the way out)

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          You tease, you. I love that stinky brie.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            you might not have loved it quite as much, at least for a while!

                            It was worth it, though, to see how happy our friend in Miami was when I handed it to her.

                          2. re: sunshine842

                            LOL, another delicious example. My son returned from Roubaix with some remarkable stashes...I think we could smell his arrival from the incoming station...the guy with the smile that said, made it with goodies in tow, Mom...was breathtaking.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Take another ziploc and fill it with ice, to accompany the cheese (or whatever). I was advised not to take ice through security, but once inside, it is easy to get your icepack refilled.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                no need -- if it's cold and packed into your checked luggage, insulated by clothing and in the very cold temperatures of the hold, it'll be fine.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  I was thinking of carry-on. You can't add ice to you checked baggage after going through security.

                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    but it will stay colder in the hold baggage - because the hold is not heated, and the ambient temperature down there is significantly colder than the ambient temperature in the cabin...thus it will, nestled into my clothing as mega insulation in a very cold environment, stay far colder than it will stay with lighter packing in my backpack in a heated cabin.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      No doubt, but my practice is to travel light without checking baggage, whenever possible. My last trip required bringing back a mess of smoked oysters and fish, which I wanted iced due to the length of time I was in transit.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        it's nice if you can do it -- but when you live on a different continent from friends and family, it's rarely possible.

                                        (and with a bum back, NOT schlepping a huge, heavy carryon is a big deal)

                        2. re: TraderJoe

                          ""It's no fun/Being an illegal Parmesan."

                        3. And yet if I wanted to buy 230 lbs. of Velveeta it'd be no problem at all.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Josh

                            of course.

                            Buying something within a set of borders isn't ever an issue.

                            Velveeta isn't cheese, though -- if you look at the package it says "pasteurized processed cheese food" -- that's not cheese.

                            Imported cheese can be suspect because of pathogens present in the milk.....

                            ....and these guys got busted because they were supposed to pay duty on it at the border.

                            Your 230 pounds of noncheese purchased and used/consumed in the country of origin isn't even remotely suspicious in any way.