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Say Cheese: Have Cheddar, Will Travel

Good for road-trip snacking: Australian cheddar, asiago fresco and Port-Salut. (Domenica Marchetti)

I adore road trips. In general I much prefer driving to flying. For one thing, I can keep to my own schedule. For another, I get to choose what food will be served.

On car trips, I’ve always packed my own meals. I got that habit from my Italian mother, who even decades ago could not abide rest-stop fare and refused to set foot in fast-food restaurants. She always made sandwiches, filling good Italian rolls with prosciutto and mozzarella, or homemade meatloaf, or frittata. There was always fresh fruit to accompany the sandwiches — grapes or apples — plus a bit of chocolate for something sweet, and usually one or two kinds of cheese to snack on.

It’s essentially the same menu that I packed the other day when we backed out of our driveway and headed north toward Michigan, where we spend part of every August. In the little plug-in car refrigerator that my brother-in-law had generously loaned us were four prosciutto-and-mozzarella sandwiches (some with tomato, some without); cherries and grapes; some chocolate caramels; and what I like to refer to as “traveling cheese.”

Choosing the right cheese for a long car ride can be a bit dicey: You can’t bring along anything too stinky, too sticky, too runny or too crumbly. All the better if it can be cut up into cubes. For a cheese lover, this can be a bit constraining: no blues (too sticky and fragrant, and the kids don’t like it); no brie (just imagine it on smeared on the inside of your windows and the floor of the car); no ultra-aged crumbly cheddars.

What I selected for this trip was a young Australian cheddar, which had the benefit of being not only free of crumbs but, at $5.99 a pound, the right price (though in truth I was somewhat disappointed in its blandness).

I also brought along a block of asiago fresco, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto that I use frequently in cooking. Sweet and tangy, it did not disappoint.

You must promise not to laugh when I tell you my third and final choice: It is that famous and famously popular cheese from Brittany with the shocking orange rind. Yes, Port-Salut. Once made by Trappist monks, it is now produced by a large dairy company. Here’s what cheese expert Steven Jenkins has to say about it in his book "Cheese Primer": “Port-Salut is a thick, dyed-orange disk with a flabby, glistening interior and stupefyingly bland flavor.”

What can I say? My son loves it; it’s easy to cube or slice, even in a car; and as mediocre as it is, it's still a step or two above fast food. Got any favorite traveling cheeses? I’m taking suggestions for the ride home.

-- Domenica Marchetti

By Jane Touzalin  |  August 4, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti  
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Manchego & real gruyere are on the list. Nice taste both that most people enjoy. Eat as is or put in sandwiches, and if not everything is eaten, they are still OK - texture-wise and taste-wise - when you reach your destination.


Posted by: rowandk | August 4, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

"You must promise not to laugh when I tell you my third and final choice: It is that famous and famously popular cheese from Brittany with the shocking orange rind. Yes, Port-Salut."

That's a quote the writers could have given Frasier on Cheers that would have been funny for intentional pompousness. I'm sure your son would have been equally thrilled if you gave him a stick of string cheese.

Posted by: dr_klahn | August 4, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

The way to make manchego managable is to carry a vegetable peeler and use that to slice. Nice shaves are good with apples or grapes.

I like a nice, smoked gouda but a plain gouda would do as well.

Posted by: mdreader01 | August 4, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

As much as possible, I map out my road trips to incorporate farmers markets so we can check out local cheesemakers. On a recent drive from Portland to Seattle we snacked on a wonderful semi-firm aged goats-milk cheese from River's Edge Chevre and a quart of Rainier cherries. Infinitely better than McD's!


Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | August 4, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

That often overlooked table cheese - young parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano (twelve month old - it gets too crumbly at four years old). Lots of flavor and if you have any left over at the end of the day (which you won't), you can always use it to make a very quick meal with pasta, some olive oil and black pepper.

Posted by: backblow | August 7, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

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