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How to Bring Cheese Backpacking

A man and a woman eating sandwiches with cheese on a backpacking tripKzenon /Depositphotos

Cheese… don’t leave home without it! Here’s how to choose the right kind of cheese for backpacking trips and pack it up so that it lasts the longest.

Cheese is a compact, delicious, and nutritious snack to have in your backpack when you are walking, hiking, or biking out in the wild. If you choose the right kind of cheese and you pack it up properly, which we will talk about momentarily, it will also keep for a long time.

Cheese is one of those snacks that sticks to the ribs—settling hunger and nourishing the individual. Since some cheeses can stay out of the fridge for an extended period of time, this makes them the perfect snack of choice during pit stops.

The best cheeses for backpacking or camping are hard cheeses with little moisture, such as aged Asiago, mature Cheddar, Grana Padano, Gruyère, Parmesan, and Pecorino. These cheeses travel and keep well without refrigeration.

These cheeses have been dried and ripened in cool, dark, cavernous conditions, in many cases for months. Their recipes helped shepherds and their families store fresh milk for winter for centuries—long before there was electricity, refrigerators, and freezers. So, yes, you can pack them up without fuss.

If you want to take cheese backpacking or camping, wrap it in parchment paper and tie it with some string. This way, the cheese can breathe, so it will stay crisp and moist longer, and you can untie and untie the knot as needed.

If you bought the cheese vacuum-packed, which is a really smart thing to do, keep it there in its original packaging and don’t open it until you’re ready to eat it. However, be sure to pack some parchment paper and string for when you break the seal.

Avoid fresh cheeses and soft cheeses: They don’t keep well in backpacks and they can make a mess that’s impossible to clean in the mountains. As a golden rule, the older and harder a wedge or wheel of cheese is, the longer it will keep unrefrigerated.

At temperatures below 90°F (32°C), most hard cheeses will keep for 2 weeks without refrigeration. In the sultry summer, when the temperature is above this threshold, even the longest-lasting cheeses will keep for only a few days.

Bringing Cheese Out of the Fridge Into the Wilderness

Let’s face it, unless you’re traveling with a camper truck, trailer, or a motorhome, you don’t want to be lugging a cooler along with your gear. With excess bulk and weight, even a portable cooler is too much to handle for the backpacker.

What you want to do is bring your cheese in your backpack.

Unless it is vacuum-packed, which greatly extends its shelf life by preventing it from coming into contact with the air, cheese has the longest shelf life when it is packaged so that it can breathe.

For this reason, food-safe paper—whether butcher paper, parchment paper, or wax paper—and tying with a knot are best for storage. This is also why plastic wrap should be avoided, unless the wrap is a little loose and allows some air in and out.

When it comes to shelf life, it is important to choose the right type of cheese. Not all cheeses are created equal; some will keep for weeks in the wild, while others will spoil within hours.

In general, fresh and soft cheeses contain a lot of moisture, which shortens shelf life and promotes spoilage because it provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. So don’t try to pack up Brie, Camembert, cottage cheese, fresh Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, and Roquefort.

Go for aged, hard cheeses and you will not regret it.

Tips for Keeping the Cheese Crisp and Fresh for Longest

Cheese contains a fair amount of butterfat, the naturally occurring fat in milk. If kept refrigerated or cool, this butterfat stays mixed with the solids in the cheese. If left out for a few hours or longer, it begins to separate and the cheese “sweats.”

The fattier the cheese is—and the longer it has lain outside—the more it will sweat. A cheese that sweats is no reason to panic, but the more it does, the more moisture, aroma, and flavor it loses. Eventually, it will taste bland and dry or crack around the edges.

When the cheese in your backpack gets overly sweaty, give it a good wipe down with a tissue or paper towel, then wrap it in parchment paper and tie it up with string once again. As effective as that is, it is also a sign that you should eat the cheese up before it gets dried out and cracks form on the surface.

To make your cheese last as long as possible, keep it in your backpack and, after unpacking, protect the wheel or wedge from direct sunlight by keeping it in the shade or covering it with the parchment paper it was wrapped in.

Special Tips on Packaging and Other Helpful Advice

Take a few extra sheets of parchment paper with you, and change the wrapping of the cheese once every two or three days if you want it to last as long as possible without sweating and going bad.

Don’t wash your cheese before packing it up and never wrap it in plastic or aluminum foil. Not only will moist cheese lose its firmness, but the moisture will serve as a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause spoilage.

Remember to take bread or, on longer hikes, crackers. As well as some spreadable condiments, such as small packets of honey or jelly (as a side note, the kind you get at hotels can be surprisingly practical for backpacking).

Sweat on cheese is okay; mold isn’t. Bacteria multiply rapidly in the temperature range between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C), and their population roughly doubles in count every 20 minutes. If you notice mold, don’t eat the cheese. Falling ill with food poisoning out in the wild can be disastrous.


Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.

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