We have a deli drawer in our refrigerator that is overflowing with cheese because we hate cheese in this house! With only a few exceptions, just about every meal includes cheese of some kind. Years ago, my children decided that if I had a food-based name, it would be Parmesan because I put Parmesan on just about everything. One of my go-to snacks is string cheese or a wedge of Cheddar.
On a weekend or week-long backpacking trip, I’m not sure I would survive without cheese. And, cheese is a great source of calcium and protein, two important things for rebuilding our bodies after a long day on the trail. In addition, for me, that little wedge of Laughing Cow or that slice of Cheddar on a cracker is a morale booster and puts me in my happy place. So, what to pack?
Hard cheese is best for extended trips, hot weather, snacking, and meal topping. Low moisture in aged hard cheeses concentrates flavor and extends shelf life. Hunks should remain edible for more than two weeks in temps in the low ‘80s. All hard cheeses sweat oil and whey, so opt for bricks rather than sliced or shredded and the moisture will be easier to manage and the shelf-life will be longer. Wrap in waxed paper then loose plastic wrap–not a resealable bag. Store in a food-specific stuffsack to prevent an oily mess. Our favorites are Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Parmesan (of course).
Cheddar is good fuel for cold or hard hikes due to its high fat content (9.5g/ounce). I love pairing it with apples or slicing it and eating on crackers.
Mozzarella is another good choice, but it needs to be the low-moisture, semi-dry variety and not the water-packed kind. Smoked hunks and string singles (my favorite) can last two weeks without refrigeration.
Parmesan is considered a recovery superfood because it is protein-dense and salty (450mgs/ounce), and digests quickly and easily. Pack solid pieces (trim off the rind) and shave onto meals after cooking or include the powdered variety in your homemade meals.
Soft cheese is best for short trips and cool weather. Their high moisture content makes them mold quickly. Soft cheeses should remain edible for a week at temps below 72°F; at higher temps, they can spoil in as little as two days. Purchase vacuum-sealed packs. After opening, seal in an airtight container and store in a cool part of your bag.
Brie is a creamy, sharp-flavored cheese that is high in salt. The rind is edible so there’s nothing to pack out. If you’ll be hiking through an area where there are good trail berries in season, it goes well with berries. If not, you could pack single-serve packets of jam to go with it.
Cream cheese is a low-fat spread that adds body to sweet or savory foods. If you thin it with a little water, you can substitute it for sour cream or milk in a recipe. Single-serve packets are pretty easy to find and last longer than a week without refrigeration.
Goat cheese is easier to digest than cow cheese. Because of that it makes a great lunch or snack because it is not likely to upset your stomach. However, it is more delicate than many other cheeses so plan to eat it in your first few days on the trail.
These long-lasting cheeses can boost flavor and calories in your recipes.
Powdered cheese is dehydrated and lightweight. It can be added to recipes that call for cheese like mac and cheese or alfredo sauce. Mix blue cheese into polenta, Cheddar into pancake mix or sprinkle dried Parmesan on anything.
Processed cheese has a mild taste but it has a high salt content, which, on the trail, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you are sweating so much. Velveeta, Easy Cheese, American slices, and gourmet brands can last weeks so they are perfect for those 50-milers or longer trips like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail (the Triple Crown of Hiking). Blending during production helps “processed cheese food” stay creamy when melted (instead of separating like natural cheese). Stir 1/4 cup into two cups of cooked noodles for a rich meal, or add to soup mixes to increase calories.
So, when you’re planning your meals and snacks for your next backpacking trip, don’t be afraid to cheese it up!
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