Test Kitchen: Cheese

From Gouda to good old string cheese, we tested 20 types to find the trail-worthiest.
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From Gouda to good old string cheese, we tested 20 types to find the trail-worthiest.

Hard Cheese
Soft Cheese
Longest Lasting
Make a Cheese Wax Candle

Hard cheese
Best for Extended trips, hot weather, snacking, and meal topping
Trail worthiness Low moisture in aged hard cheeses concentrates flavor and extends shelf life. Our test hunks stayed edible for more than two weeks in temps in the low 80s. All hard cheeses sweat oil and whey, but opt for bricks over pre-sliced or shredded; moisture is easier to manage and the shelf-life is longer.
Storage Wrap in waxed paper then loose plastic wrap–not a zip-top bag. Store in a food-specific stuffsack to prevent an oily mess.

Top picks
>> Cheddar This fatty choice (9.5 g/ounce) is good fuel for cold or hard hikes. Pair with apples or drizzle with honey on crackers.
>> Mozzarella The low-moisture, semi-dry variety is trail-worthy (the water-packed stuff is not). Haul smoked hunks and string singles, which last two weeks without refrigeration. Both melt well on pizza and get gooier and more flavorful as oils sweat.
>> Parmesan Protein-dense and salty (450 mgs/ounce), this meal-topper is a recovery superfood. Pack solid pieces (trim the rind) and shave onto meals after cooking for easy cleanup.

Soft cheese
Best for Short trips, cool weather, and gourmet camp kitchens
Trail worthiness Moisture makes them mold quickly. In our tests, samples stayed edible for a week at temps below 72℉; at higher temps, they spoiled in as little as two days.
Storage Purchase cryovac (vacuum-sealed) packs. After opening, seal in an airtight container and store in a cool part of your bag.

Top picks
>> Brie The rind of this gourmet soft cheese is edible, so there’s nothing to pack out. The creamy, sharp-flavored interior is high in salt; pair it with trail berries or jam after a sweaty hike.
>> Cream cheese This low-fat spread adds body to sweet or savory sandwich wraps, and (thinned with water) can substitute for sour cream or milk in camp recipes. It’s also widely available in single-serve packets that last longer than a week without refrigeration.
>> Goat Easier to digest than cow cheese, goat cheese is a good midday snack choice because it’s unlikely to upset your stomach. It’s also more delicate than many other cheeses; aim to consume it (on sandwiches or in quesadillas) in your first few trail days.

Longest Lasting
Add flavor and calories on big trips with shelf-stable cheeses.

>> Powdered Lightweight and dehydrated, these are good toppings, but not ideal as primary ingredients. Mix blue cheese into polenta, blend cheddar with pancake mix for a savory breakfast, and use dried Parmesan on any carbs. (About $10/lb.; americanspice.com)

>> Processed Downside: high salt content and a mild taste. Upside: Velveeta, Easy Cheese, American slices, and gourmet brands can last weeks. 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.

Tested: Make a cheese-wax firestarter.
Wax-covered edam isn’t just a tasty snack; the firestarter-worthy layer of red paraffin that keeps it from spoiling doubles as a survival tool. Make a mini candle: Fold and layer the wax into a one-inch square, then wrap it around a piece of paper twisted into a wick. Burns for up to 20 minutes.

Cheese School
Watch a video demo for making a candle with a waxy rind.