Choosing cheeses to take on a picnic

May 05, 2004|By Laura Werlin | Laura Werlin,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

It's hard to imagine a picnic without cheese, but when you're going to be out all day in the sun, you should choose your cheeses wisely. There's nothing worse than unwrapping the cheese you painstakingly selected, only to reveal a runny mess.

Picnics take many forms, and the cheeses you choose depend on the nature of your outing. If you will be unloading the car and walking 50 yards to the picnic table, then you can choose more delicate cheeses, because they won't be out of refrigeration for long. In fact, if you've transported your cheeses in an ice chest, they could be too cold. If this is the case, remove them from the cooler about an hour before you're ready to eat and enjoy their full flavors.

You might want to start with an herbed fresh goat cheese, such as the ones made by Redwood Hill Farms. These cheeses are ethereal when spread on slices of a fresh baguette - picked up en route to your destination. To round out your cheeses, pick up a roasted chicken along with some fresh and dried fruit.

Also look for a rich cheese, such as Marin French Cheese Co.'s Triple-Cream Brie (available in most grocery stores) or the popular French cheese Explorateur. They, too, go perfectly with the bread. You also should include a harder aged cheese, such as a good Wisconsin cheddar, and also a blue (Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.'s Original Blue is a great choice.)

If you're planning to stash a picnic in a day pack and hike, the cheeses you choose will need to be sturdy. Semifirm cheeses such as cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda, Emmentaler, Appenzeller, pecorino and manchego will all hold up - perhaps even better than you will.

One of my favorite hiking/picnic cheeses is one made by Cowgirl Creamery called Mt. Tam. It has a creamy, buttery flavor, yet it's firm, so it will hold up to the jostling of a day pack. Hard cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, also do quite well in the wilderness.

To accompany these types of cheeses, you may want to bring along sturdy fruit, such as apples (forget the berries) or, better yet, a small container of rhubarb jam or peach chutney. You don't really need bread with these types of cheeses, but if you can't imagine cheese without bread, then look for a loaf studded with walnuts and dried fruit.

A selection of sliced meats, such as prosciutto, salami and braesola (dried beef), and maybe some shortbread, and you're good to go.

For picnics at music festivals, concerts and beach outings, your cheese selection is pretty much unlimited. Simply take into account how long your cheeses will be away from refrigeration, how hot the weather is and how the cheeses will be transported.

Generally speaking, cheeses are fairly hearty - even the softer, creamier ones - if they're packed well. For the more delicate cheeses, place them in individual airtight containers that are just a little bigger than they are. If the container is too big, the cheese will be knocked around. If the cheeses will be touching the ice packs, make sure both the ice packs and the cheeses are double- or triple-wrapped. Without the extra layers of protection, you may end up with soggy cheese.

- Laura Werlin is the author of "The New American Cheese" and "The All American Cheese and Wine Book."

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