Picnic baskets filled with cheese and goodies make the perfect summer lunches. —INGRAIN, Summer 2018
STORY / Cara Condon
Summer in the city means one thing: being outside as much as possible. In Chicago, we spend all winter cooped up. As soon as the temperature hits fifty degrees, we run outside—fast. There are patios and parks to fill. It might rain soon.
Cheese is great anytime but is especially convenient for a last-minute picnic. Unlike some foods, it’s always appropriate to carry around with you. We’ve been known to pull cheese out of various pockets and bags at the most unsuspecting moments. (No one has turned down that pocket cheddar yet.) The right types of cheeses can also handle a city commute: the potholes, sudden stops, and packed trains. And what’s better than eating cheese outside? Keep a few essentials on hand, and a cheesy, no-fuss bike picnic is minutes away.
PICK TWO TO THREE STURDY CHEESES
First, avoid delicate cheeses; you don’t want smooshed cheese. A firmer cheese will be able to withstand more bumping around in a backpack. To give yourself some variety, play with different styles of hard cheeses, such as English cheddars, Alpine cheeses, or goudas. Varying the milk type will also yield more options.
A NERDIER NOTE Harder cheeses tend to have less moisture and are able to weather the storm, like changing temperature and moisture levels outdoors, better than many softer cheeses.
AVOID BUYING CHEESES THAT HAVE BEEN PRE-PACKED FOR TOO LONG
Everyone says it, but we’re going to say it again: When cheese sits around in plastic for too long, it starts to lose flavor. One to two days is all it takes. Find a place that will cut your cheese to order.
Yes, this means you’ll have to talk to your cheesemonger, but don’t be scared (they don’t bite). He or she will help you select a cheese that you will love and let you sample it before you buy. How great is that? At a cut-to-order shop, the mongers are also able to offer as little or as big of a freshly cut slice as you’d like.
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITES
(Pasteurized cow and goat milk blend)
A rustic, in-your-face cheese gets earthy notes from the caves, along with rich, grassy, buttery notes from the milk. Perfect for eating while sitting in actual grass.
$10 for 7 ounces
(Pasteurized cow’s milk)
A semi-firm Alpine-style cheese, St. Malachi is aged for only three months but is mature beyond its years. Think fondue with a hint of caramel and a long finish to rival the best bourbons. $14 for 8 ounces
(Pasteurized cow’s milk)
This farmhouse-style cheese was made to eat outside. The natural rind, along with a little blue mold, lend a briny and earthy character with notes of roasted pecans. Kentucky Rose is a crowd pleaser that pairs well with almost any beer, especially malt-forward beers. $8 for 8 ounces
Beyond a nice mix of cheeses and salami, bring some good bread. We like a classic baguette when we’re pretending to be cool and French (baguettes are a great match with sturdy cheeses and striped shirts). Plus, a crusty loaf can handle more vigorous squishing better than softer breads like focaccia or crumbly crackers.
Nuts are always good to have on hand. We never tire of Marcona almonds, which complement just about anything. As for beer, reach for those cans. There are so many great canned beers on the market today. Broken glass is always a picnic-party kill. Other things to avoid include jams and honey (Hello, bees!) and fussy accoutrements. Have you ever spilled vinegar in your bag? (We have.)
Remember, this is a chill picnic. Leave the fancy stuff at home for when you need to impress someone’s parents.
WISCO OLD FASHIONED SALAMI
A playful spin on a brandy Old Fashioned, the classic Wisconsin cocktail, this small-batch salami is a rustic charmer. The layers of allspice, brandied cherries, and orange peel complement the subtle sweetness of the pork. Try it with a citrus-scented Saison. $6 for 2 ounces
Leave the cheese knife at home. A camping knife should always be in your backpack. Opinel N°07 stainless steel pocket knives are our go-to for an instant cheese picnic. The knives are sturdy and well made and have a stainless steel blade that doesn’t easily corrode. You can slice anything from cheese and salami to crusty bread (but really, just rip the bread). When you’re done, the 3-inch blade folds into the wood handle and locks into place for safe travels. $14, Opinel
Super lightweight. A lightweight, compact blanket means more room in your bag for the good stuff like cheese and beer. If you want to be really fancy, you can spring for one of those nifty blankets that fold up into the size of a cell phone, like the outdoor picnic blankets from Golyte. Anything works. Keep an old flannel flat sheet at your desk for impromptu post-work picnic adventures. $30, Golyte
Seriously. You’ve got the beer covered already, but did you think about how to pack it? Koozies aren’t just for your dad. Packing cans in their own thermally insulated beverage containers (see how sophisticated that makes koozies sound?) keeps the beer cold. It also prevents the cans from smacking around too much. You probably have a stash somewhere. If not, you can buy a dozen for less than five bucks.
Don’t forget the music. You want to bring a party with you wherever you choose to set up camp. To avoid an instant party kill, make sure your portable speaker has a full charge (check out the lazy summery vibes from Mac DeMarco).
Check out more cheese picks in our Cheese section.