I was going to put together a holiday gift guide for last-minute shoppers, but I waited as long to finish writing it as I did to do my own holiday shopping—which meant it would be too late for anyone else to get their gifts in time for Christmas if they got an idea from my guide!
So I’ll save that guide for next year and deal with this year’s most pressing holiday question. This is one that a number of customers have asked me about this week in the shop. It comes in two variants:
- What cheese would make a good stocking stuffer?
- What would be the best way to ship this piece of [insert cheese name here] to my [family member] in [far-away state or country]?
As to the second part, it’s too late to ship anything in time for Christmas unless you’re shelling out the big bucks.
If you’re going to do that, you either have to send your cheese in an insulated container of some sort with enough dry ice to keep it cool for the number of days it will take for your cheese to get to its recipient. That can make it pretty risky to ship fresh and soft-ripened cheeses, which are delicate to begin with and can get really funky fast if they go through temperature hell on their journey from, say, Seattle to Arizona.
Shipping harder, more aged—and thus, sturdier—cheeses is obviously going to be easier, but you still have to ensure a consistent temperature from Minnesota to Florida, or else your cheese will show signs of its temperature abuse in ways you wouldn’t want to smell, taste, or see yourself.
I’m not saying you should never ship cheese, but you just have to be very, very careful when you do. I prefer to order the cheese from the cheesemaker or someone who specializes in shipping cheese; let those experts do the hard work of taking necessary precautions to ship the cheese babies safe and sound to their destination.
Going back to the first part of the question, we need to be clear about what we mean by “stocking stuffer.”
If you mean, “I’m going to put it in the stocking myself shortly before they pull the cheese out of it,” then your possibilities are endless. Really, you can stuff any cheese you want into that stocking.
But if you mean, “I’m going to give them a gift bag with cheese in it and hope they open it in the next 24 hours,” then we start to have the same issues as we do when we ship cheese from Idaho to Pennsylvania.
Right now we have a ton of beautiful little goat cheeses in the case at my shop—Capriole Goat Cheese’s O’Banon and Wabash Cannonball, Nettle Meadow Farm‘s Kunik and Apple Cider Fromage Frais, Tieton Farm and Creamery’s Black Pearl, Sonnet and Bianca, Sunny Pine Farm‘s Chèvre in three different flavors, and just about every flavor of Laura Chenel’s Chèvre under the sun. I would not advise you to give them as “stocking stuffers” if you could not guarantee that they would not be out of refrigeration for fewer than eight hours.
Now, I am notorious for leaving my own personal cheese out all day, overnight, for hours at a time, whatever. I have never died from eating cheese I left out for a day; I haven’t even gotten the shits from it. But not everyone is me—and you don’t want to risk your gift recipient taking that gorgeous $17 goat cheese and throwing it away because they realized they didn’t refrigerate it overnight and they are petrified of getting sick from warm cheese.
It’s easier to get away with giving harder, more aged cheeses as gifts and not having to have them stay cold for four hours or more.
If your gift recipient is a cheese connoisseur, then he or she will likely realize that the cheese is at-temp and ready to eat. That’s your ideal scenario.
Not everyone is an aficionado, though, so you might have to include a note with some info about your cheese. It will probably help, too, if you include some bread or crackers, maybe also a little cheese knife and board, or perhaps some preserves or honey—so that the gift really can be enjoyed as soon as it’s opened.
This is the part in the post where I would normally feel compelled to give you a list of the perfect cheeses for stuffing a stocking/gift bag/whatever. But honestly, the gift of cheese that you bequeath is going to depend on where you live, what cheese shops or counters you have at your disposal, and how much money you want to drop on the cheese gift (for the cheese itself, and how much you might spend on anything to go with the cheese).
Here are some other questions you will want to ask yourself about the gift of cheese you’re about to give:
- How adventurous is this person? Does he or she like strong flavors? Mild flavors?
- Does this person consume all milks? Should I focus on cow, or does she only eat sheep or goat? Is he vegan? (And yes, there are very good vegan “cheeses” out there in the world!) Are their kids lactose intolerant? (If yes, get more aged cheeses, or focus on goat or sheep.)
- Does my recipient have an absolute favorite cheese or category of cheeses? Is it likely he or she has tried this one before?
Also keep in mind that there are a good number of seasonal cheeses out there that make the most special cheese gifts. This includes cheeses like Rush Creek Reserve, Humboldt Haze Remix, and Black Betty, or cheeses that your cheesemonger knows are “one-and-done” offerings that likely won’t be available in the shop again in the future.
Giving the gift of cheese is essentially a gift of experience. Whether it’s a new experience or an experience with a dear, old cheese friend, you want it to be one that your recipient will cherish.