Outdoor time is finally here. That means picnicking, sports, hiking, fishing, boating and maybe even the beach. And the first priority in preparation for these activities is usually the food. No matter should you should forget the bait, the walking boots or the beach towels. The food is the thing.
Suggestions for Traveling with Cheese
Many folks are concerned with cheese spoiling during outdoor activities. I have good news. With the exception of a few fresh, young cheeses, you need not worry. I know hikers who carry cheese with them for days at time without a problem. The cheese may sweat a little, or even change shape, but it remains good for the next meal. Unfortunately, the same is not true for that tuna sandwich with mayonnaise or lettuce salad.
Any time my family travels for work or pleasure, whether by car, boat, or plane, we always pack the cheese. “Have cheese, will travel” is our motto.
For successful travel with cheese, I recommend that you wrap wedges individually with cling wrap, then enclose the wrapped wedges in a plastic bag, with a twist tie for extra protection from leaking. They should fit comfortably in suitcases, carry-ons or backpacks.
Cheese is amazingly versatile when faced with fluctuating temperatures. Should you have the opportunity to refrigerate your cheese overnight during your travels, please feel free to do so. Your cheese can stay out at room temperature all day and then chill again at night. And it does not hurt to do this more than once.
Some time ago, I read an article where someone said that bringing cheese to room temperature and then cooling it again was not advisable. I presume they have never tried it. It has worked for me for over fifty years.
Choosing your Cheese
Choosing which cheeses to bring along to your outdoor event is entirely your choice, based solely on your personal taste. I always recommend choosing an assortment of cheese from different families to enjoy a nice variety of flavors. Cheeses maintain their shape better if you choose larger pieces, so consider paring down the number of cheeses you select before reducing the size of each piece.
I would never precut or cube cheese for convenience. I recommend leaving cheese as whole as possible to preserve flavor and moisture. Leftover pieces that are larger will be much more appreciated the next day.
The following guideline is based on a one-time event. Please adjust for your length of days and the amount of meals you will be eating.
A short event with other appetizers, early in the afternoon, not dinner time, no alcohol:
1-1.5 oz. cheese per person
Safe range, some other appetizers, wine will be served, close to dinner:
2-3 oz. cheese per person
Long event, wine, no other appetizers, afternoon affair, before dinner:
3-4 oz. cheese per person
The larger the amount of people, the smaller the amount of cheese you will need to serve per person. The opposite is also true. If you are traveling with a small group, say four guests, you would most likely want four 6-8 oz. wedges of cheese, to make your presentation look good. Whatever has not been eaten can be saved for another day.
If your event will allow a pre-made tray, do not hesitate to do so. Preparing a day ahead is fine. Be sure to wrap the trays well with cling wrap. You might want to leave a runny cheese like Brie wrapped well but placed in position on the tray. You can unwrap it at the last moment. Avoid placing crackers on the tray in advance. If left with the cheese for some time, they will become soft and soggy. Add crackers just prior to serving.
It’s human nature to taste with our eyes first, so keep your selection attractive with different shapes, sizes and colors. For the best variety, choose cheeses from different families such as blues, soft-ripening, washed rinds, goudas, goat and sheep, and cheddars. Include fresh and dried fruits such as grapes, pears, dried apricots, figs and dates for interest, color and texture. Do be careful about serving nuts to guests with food allergies, however. If you are unsure, keep nuts separate from the main tray.
Accoutrements like Acacia honey, balsamic vinegars and chutneys add to the enjoyment and visual excitement of your presentation. Place them in separate serving dishes with a small spoon for self-service, since not everyone is interested in having a topping on their cheese. Aside from that, it can create a messy, unappetizing tray in very little time.
Include a separate knife for each cheese. Anyone caught using the blue cheese knife on the Brie should be cut off from the wine as punishment. Don’t feel sorry for them; that leaves more wine for you.
Serve cheese at room temperature. Leaving cheese out for an hour before is usually sufficient. However, avoid uncovering the tray until ready for use. You want the cheeses to be at room temperature, but not dried up.
Cheese labels are always a great addition to your tray. Identifying the names of the cheeses and the type(s) of milk is helpful for guests, particularly those who can only tolerate goat or sheep milk. It might also save you from answering many questions during the event. You can find nice porcelain or slate markers for this purpose.