Cheddar for Christmas
November 18, 2013 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I am mailing my friends a package for Christmas. They live in Africa; I'm in the US. They asked for cheddar cheese (among other things). How do I make this happen?

I know cheddar sweats a little after a half a day out of the fridge... does it ever actually spoil? Can I just drop a (store-sealed) hunk o' cheese in the package and send it off? Would vacuum packaging it help? We did once send them Chick-fil-a sandwiches, vacuum sealed, via a visitor's luggage, but that was more like 3 days out of the fridge, not 3 weeks. (And no one died of food poisoning!) I am sending the package in a USPS flat-rate box, however long that takes.

Dry ice is not an option, so I am looking for prep/packaging suggestions. I can freeze it, vacuum seal it, wrap it in an insulated snow suit, etc, etc.

Bonus question: is there a cheaper way to mail a huge package other than the USPS flat rate box, which is $79.95 with a 20 lb max? The price is ok but I'd like to be able to send more than 20 lbs and/or a bigger box because as it stands I am going to have to use two boxes for a jaw-dropping $160.
posted by raspberrE to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cheese that's still in its wax coating does not need to be refrigerated and shouldn't sweat. That's how the fine folks at Pepperidge Farms do it, at least.
posted by drlith at 3:55 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

According to this site, "Yes, you can coat store bought cheeses with cheese wax (that red or black wax you saw). Cheese wax is more flexible than plain paraffin wax and won’t crack, letting in air and bacteria. Yes, this coated wax will stay okay for many months, but at room temperature, this cheese will get very sharp very quickly. And it won’t last as long as if it were stored in a very cool location."
posted by kmennie at 3:56 PM on November 18, 2013

Maybe go for a a dryer, aged variety like Dubliner or other white cheddar. Living abroad I would often bring the big chunks from from Costco (at least in my area, Costco had Dubliner and Tillamook for cheddar options). I would shoot for buying already wax coated cheese, I don't know if I would bother to coat anything in wax myself but that's me, as long it was in airtight plastic. Without a fridge I kept cheddar in plastic on the counter for at least a week. Will they be able to refrigerate once they get it?

I don't know prices, but you could look into what courier companies serve their area (or have them do it) and compare prices (maybe call customer service to talk options, tho who knows about the helpfulness of any given customer service line these days). DHL, UPS, FedEx...
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:06 PM on November 18, 2013

If you're definitely shipping flat-rate (presumably priority flat-rate, which is where they offer boxes), you're looking at about ten days, probably. (USPS says six to ten days for many major markets.)

My vote for cheddar, then, is Washington State University's natural cheddar or Cougar Gold, which, in addition to being delicious, is sent in a handy can. Their documentation explicitly states that transport at sub-70-degree temps for up to ten days is fine. And there's almost certainly some wiggle room--it might get sharper, but it won't go bad or anything.
posted by MeghanC at 4:08 PM on November 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'd seal it with cheese wax.

Then I'd vacuum seal it to protect the wax from damage and to prevent as much odor from leaking as possible. Because if there's a leak that lets odor through, your package might become subject to inspection and possibly disposal. Plus grease might leak through and weaken/break the outer packaging if it's card board or something. In fact I'd probably vacuum seal it multiple times, probably at least 3 times (as in trim the sealed package, stuff it into another pouch and vacuum seal that, rinse, lather, repeat.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:17 PM on November 18, 2013

looks like UPS potentially allows international shipping with dry ice
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:19 PM on November 18, 2013

Kerrygold (the same people who make Dubliner) have an aged Irish Cheddar with Whiskey that comes already sealed in wax and is pretty fantastic. And their website just now taught me that they also have a wax-sealed version of Dubliner, with Irish Stout.
posted by dizziest at 6:14 PM on November 18, 2013

You'll have to see if the receiving country allows food products / dairy in. If not, it could result in the whole package being seized.

Are they working for a US company / the government? If so their employer may be able to add personal items to routine mailings which could potentially save you $$ and hassle.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:23 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

My vote for cheddar, then, is Washington State University's natural cheddar or Cougar Gold, which, in addition to being delicious, is sent in a handy can. Their documentation explicitly states that transport at sub-70-degree temps for up to ten days is fine.

fyi: it's currently summer in south africa so make sure if you are sending this it isn't hot weather in whichever african country it's going to. their seasons are different than north america.
posted by wildflower at 12:07 AM on November 19, 2013

It depends where they are in Africa.

Personally, I would send no perishable food, even if it is waxed and sealed, via the normal postal service to 3/4 of African countries. It might take weeks to get there and stands a high risk of being left somewhere warm for hours or days. The Northern coastal countries of Africa are heading into winter. Below that temperatures are equatorial or sub-Saharan summer. So medium hot to very hot. A package will also face the risks of theft and/or over zealous customs inspectors.

Option 1: Express delivery via a courier service, not USPS flat rate. Pack the cheese in a styrofoam box, ideally filled with dry ice.

Option 2: Ask your friends who they know who is coming from the US to where they live. Beg the favour. Send it to the contact and have them bring it. You won't be able to send 20lb with a friend, probably, unless you offer to pay their excess baggage fees and they are very accommodating.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:32 AM on November 19, 2013

Seconding Washington State Cougar Gold. It really is pretty good. We are cheese nuts and while it isn't Cabot's cloth wrapped I wouldn't hesitate to serve it to friends.
posted by leafwoman at 8:17 AM on November 19, 2013

Cheap mailing: mail to a nearby US military base (ships anywhere for the cost of sending domestically) -- you need to address it to a specific person there, though.

Flat rate will take a long time. How long it takes through customs on the other end will vary based on the country. When living in Europe, USPS packages usually took several weeks, and in one case almost 2 months.

Make sure you can import cheese into the destination country.

Cabot clothbound.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:20 AM on November 19, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I realized that I have a friend who lived in the same city as these friends for a few years, so I asked her this cheese question.

Surprisingly, she said, "Oh, just go buy a block of cheese at [local grocery store] and chuck it in the box." I pushed for more... should I vacuum seal it, pack it in dry ice, etc, etc? And she continued to insure me that just putting a block of regular old store-brand cheddar in the box would be fine and that they ate such cheese several times after such a postal trip and everyone survived. And I couldn't find reasonably priced wax-wrapped cheese in our local grocery store, and didn't have time to order some, so...

that's what I did.
posted by raspberrE at 6:58 AM on November 27, 2013

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