Cheese is a wonderful thing to have when you're out and about in the wilderness. Delicious, nutritious and versatile, it isn’t something that I like to leave behind. But travels with fresh cheese does come with a few problems of it’s own. By making an informed choice on the type of cheese best suited to your trip and packing it well, you can easily enjoy cheese several days into the backcountry.
The Life of Cheese
The French enjoy eating cheese at room temperature and many people believe that cheese brought to the ambient temperature will be much more flavorful than one served from the refrigerator. Allowing your cheese to make the leap from the European dinner table to the wilderness is an easy one. But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind…
Generally speaking, a soft cheese such as a feta, mozzarella or goat will easily last for several hours without refrigeration and may last for 1-2 days if you’re hiking in cooler temperatures. If you’d like to take your cheese on a longer hike, opt for a hard cheese such as a Gruyere or an aged Gouda and they’ll last for the better part of a week, if not longer.
If your cheese begins to come down with the green fuzzies, you can salvage it with a few well-placed cuts (the exception is freshly made cheese and blue cheese). Make a cut about ½ inch below the mold to ensure that it has been entirely removed and discard. The remaining cheese should be fine to eat – so enjoy!
If you're going into the backcountry for longer than a week, you may want opt for a shelf stable cheese such as our Jalapeño Jack or Wisconsin Cheddar. These cheeses are packaged so that they don't require refrigeration - and because they are of small size you will probably eat it all at one meal.
Another shelf stable option is freeze-dried shredded cheese. We carry a tasty Monterrey Jack that melts nicely in entrées, soups, etc. It has the appearance of freshly shredded cheese, but is brittle and kind of crunchy. It comes "back to life" easily with the addition of a little water and will readily "melt" when used in any recipe calling for shredded cheese.
How to Pack
Enzymes and bacteria occur naturally in cheese and need to be exposed to air and moisture to keep the cheese fresh and flavorful. For this reason, fresh cheese should never be stored in an airtight wrapping, such as plastic wrap or a sandwich bag, or it will begin to develop a slimy film.
Hikers should wrap their cheese in wax or parchment paper, layers of cheesecloth or a plain brown paper bag. Secure the wrapping with a rubber band and store the cheese in a cool part of your pack, like inside of your cookset in the center of your backpack. This will give the cheese a longer life and prevent it from getting squished.