Summer days (and nights) are made for outdoor adventures, and camping is one of the best ways to experience nature. It also offers a new way to look at food and cooking; Whether you’re in the mountains, by a lake, or under a canopy of trees, eating outside is one of the joys of camping season. Simple meals are taken to the next level thanks to the stellar surroundings. But simple need not be boring. You can do better than hot dogs on sticks or prepackaged, freeze-dried foods.
Choosing Cheeses for Camp Cooking
Cheese is an excellent camp cooking staple, as it can be added to almost any dish or eaten on its own as a snack. It brings flavor, nourishment, and above all, a heightened outdoor experience. A summer hike with a fresh baguette and a hunk of cheese can be quite luxurious!
How you choose your cheeses for camp cooking depends on your style of camping (for example, car camping versus backpacking) and the length of your trip, but here are some general guidelines to follow.
With a low moisture content, these wedges will hold their own for days if kept at the proper temperature. If you’ll also be eating the cheese on its own, look for aged versions that offer a strong, distinct flavor like Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Paški Sir.
Like hard cheeses, semi-firm cheeses pack easily and add a comforting component to meals. Emmentaler and cheddar do double duty, matching well with pasta and grains for mains and trail mix and dried fruit for snacks. Likewise, a few slices of Gruyère can be an easy afternoon snack, and you can make fondue with it later.
Soft cheeses like chèvre and brie aren’t ideal for longer trips because they spoil quicker and can get messy if you’re not careful about packing. However, if you’re just doing a day hike or an overnight, they can be a special treat. Try spreading goat cheese on slices of bread, drizzling them with honey, and warming them over the fire. Or, wrap a wheel of brie in tinfoil and place it near hot coals for a gooey dip.
How to Pack a Cooler
Camp cooking is so much easier when you’re organized — here’s how to maximize your traveling fridge.
Clean and Prep the Cooler
Start by making sure your cooler is clean. Give it a good scrub down, and pre-chill by filling with tap water or even ice. This helps to bring the overall temperature of the cooler down before you pack it, which helps it stay colder for longer.
Chill Your Food
Keep cooler contents cold for as long as possible by packing items that have been pre-chilled.
Do as much prep work at home as you can. This not only helps save space in your cooler, but it also makes cooking easier when you are at camp. (Hint: Grate your cheese ahead of time!)
Pack in Easy-to-Organize Containers
If you are preparing cheese ahead of time (grating, slicing, etc), store each cheese individually in a sealable container or plastic bag packed and separated by recipe. For whole blocks of cheese, unwrap and store in a sealable container or plastic bag to keep your cooler a little cleaner as you work your way through the cheese.
Line the bottom of your cooler with freezer packs, and then add your food. Freeze a couple bottles of water (don’t fill them all the way so the water can expand) and pack them throughout the cooler as well. Top everything off with a layer of ice cubes. (Water from melted ice can be poured off and new ice added as needed.)
Pack According to Meals
Think about the meals you’re planning to make and when you are planning to make them. Organize the cooler accordingly, so that the ingredients for the first meals are at the top and so on.
Storing Cheese while Backpacking
If you’re on a trip without a cooler, you’ll have to think a little differently. Skip anything soft and opt for hard or semi-firm cheeses—the longer aged, the better. Wrap your cheese in wax paper, parchment paper, or reusable food wrap, and stick that inside a sturdy food container to prevent the cheese from getting smashed in your pack.
Photographed by Francine Zaslow.
Styled by Catrine Kelty.