A Crowd-pleasing Picnic Basket in 7 Easy Steps

by Alifair Skebe

The summer season is just beginning. The days and nights are warm, outdoor playhouses and parks in every city feature a fantastic line-up of music, plays, poetry and dance. You want to enjoy your lunch and dinner in this expressive milieu. You wonder how to put together that delicious, varied basket of goodies for yourself and your picnic buddies.

No worry! The Cheese Traveler has got you covered. Many of the suggested items can be purchased at The Cheese Traveler shop in Albany, NY or found in your own pantry.


Start with Cheese. Cheese is a classic picnic food predating written history. In ancient times, nomadic peoples from Northern China carried cheese in small urns, and to this day, travelers all over the world tote the nutrient-dense food on trips and outdoor hikes. In small ¼ to ½ pound wedges, cheese is wonderfully portable and resists spoiling in the heat. In fact, as the cheese warms to temperature, it becomes more flavorful: its complexities become stronger and more discernible. Choose an assortment of different styles, types, and milks for your picnic. Harder cheeses such as Comte, Gruyère, Cheddar, and Parmesan will generally last longer in warmer temperatures, though for an afternoon or evening jaunt, don’t be afraid to take a triple-crème, goat’s milk pyramid, Taleggio, or Stilton.


Add Charcuterie. Like cheese, cured meats are a classic, portable food. Smoked, dried, cured, or baked, charcuterie pairs beautifully with picnic cheeses. Adding a few slices of a salty, savory meat is a low-cost way to add some protein to your plate and delight your senses. Choose two or three meats to complement your cheese or to snack on alone. Typically, salami and dry-cured ham will last longer in the heat than cooked ham or pate; yet again, during a few hours of entertainment, there is little need to worry about their spoiling. A wonderful combination of charcuterie will include a hard salami such as Sopressata, Saussicon Sec, or Chorizo; a dry-cured ham such as Prosciutto or Jamon Serrano; a cooked ham or Mortadella; and a country pate.

Pair with Condiments. While enjoying cheese and meat, add flavor perks to jazz up your palate. Since you’re out in the heat, consider both sweet and savory combinations tha139423658_b394695b44_zt will satiate your sweet tooth and replenish your salt balance. Choose a varietal honey and seasonal jam as well as a fine mustard, cornichons, and olives. Consider adding a handful of nuts and local, seasonal fresh fruit as well.

Bread and Crackers. What cheese would not be enhanced by crusty baguette, crispy crackers, or gluten-free crisps? Oh yeah.

Pack a Cheese Board and Knives. Your delectable treats could well be eaten out of the package, though isn’t it tastier and more delightful to dine with a little portable elegance? Consider using a Brooklyn Slate board, or a light-weight, wooden one. Arrange your cheeses and meats on the board from mildest in flavor to strongest. Pack a few knives, one for each cheese, and include several small spoons to scoop out the honey, jam, and mustard.

Pack a Set of Linens and Tableware. Choose a nice tablecloth or blanket. Include some cloth napkins, a set of flatware, and a couple of plates. Go for the classy ceramic plates or some nice, light-weight melamine plates.

Secure your stash with a basket. Choose a traditional wicker basket, a roomy backpack, or a tote bag. Pick up, zip or tie.

Now you’re ready to go!







Limburger Files: Pt. 2, Beer and Cheese Pairing

by Alifair Skebe and David Doughan

From the family of smear-ripened or washed-rind cheeses, Limburger is practically made to pair with beer. The bold flavor of the orange-colored, slightly sweet and acidic rind and the smooth, creamy texture of the paste blend well with the effervescent, cool taste of a pint.

Limburger has long been considered a working-class cheese, because it packs a lot of flavor for not a lot of money. The cheese with its dense meaty texture is strong enough to hold its own on a rye-bread sandwich with red onion and mustard and to equally satisfy the tastebuds. Often found on bar menus and under glass at the deli counter, this Belgian-German cheese has become an American classic.

On a balmy February evening, cheesemongers Eric Paul, David Doughan, and Alifair Skebe met to sample Limburger and Beers, looking for the perfect pairing. A great pairing will bring out the best in both, and particularly for Limburger, you want the sweetness and subtlety of its hearty, bold flavor to shine above the funkiness of the washed rind. The right beer can do just that. The wrong beer will either leave the cheese tasting flat or overpowering.

Of the beers that night, we sampled Belgian beers and the American Peak IPA. Amongst the Belgian contenders were Duvel, Chimay blue label, Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene, and Delirium Tremens. Although Limburger has long been thought to be a German cheese, its origins are located in Belgium with the monasteries, and its roots are close to Chimay. Thusly, we chose to pair it with the beers that most resemble its heritage.

Limburger, accompaniments, and the beer selection

Limburger, accompaniments, and the beer selection

The tasting order of the pairing began with Peak Organic IPA, and American Indian Pale Ale, and moved to Delerium Tremens and Duvel, both Belgian strong pale ales. We then tasted Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene, a Belgian sour, and finished with the Chimay Grande Reserve blue label, a Belgian strong dark ale.

What follows are some tasting notes  –

Peak Organic IPA – American Indian Pale Ale, 7.2%

  • Bright yellow.  One finger head.
  • Fragrant, flowery aroma.
  • Crisp, refreshing IPA that has not gone overboard on the hops.

I definitely would drink this IPA on a regular basis; however, the Limburger overwhelmed the crisp taste immediately.  Water might be a better pairing than this IPA. The worst pairing of the night.

Delirium Tremens – strong Belgian pale ale, 8.5%

  • Bright yellow hue with no clouding.  Nice lacing.  Very little head.
  • Aromas of cloves and pepper.
  • Taste is a bit sweet at first followed by some heat and ends with a dry finish.
  • The better of the two Belgian Pale Ales.

Almost able to stand up to the Limburger. But the cheese wins out on the finish.

Duvel – strong Belgian pale ale, 8.5%

  • Bright yellow hue with no clouding.  Moderate head. Very slight lacing.
  • Citrus aroma.
  • Taste is more linear than the Tremens.  Crisp spicy taste then just goes nowhere after that.
  • The Duvel just is not as interesting a BPA.

Once I tasted the rind of the Limburger I could no longer taste the beer.  The beer did hold up to the paste though.

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Rene – Gueze, 5.50%

  • Hazy orange hue.  Slightly more lacing than the Belgian Pale Ale.
  • Barnyard aroma with tart overtones.
  • Taste – tart/sour but not overly aggressive.  Some spice in the background, but I could not place it.  Well-balanced.

A triumph of human ingenuity.  And a complete disaster with the Limburger. The beer’s tartness only accentuated the unpleasant flavors in the Limburger. (Alifair liked this pairing, especially accompanied by the horseradish mustard and pickle relish.)

Chimay Grande Reserve – Belgian strong dark ale, 9.0%

  • Amber to brown color.  2 finger head.
  • Aromas of plum and other fruits.
  • Red wine tastes abound – grape, plums, raisins come to mind.  Very sweet. Creamy texture.

The only beer that worked with the Limburger without accompaniments.  The sweetness of the beer was able to soften the acidic flavor of the rind and allowed me to really enjoy the fruity undertones of the Limburger’s paste.

Our Final Comments on the Tasting:

Overall we found that we enjoyed the Limburger especially when eaten with rye bread and condiments. We agreed that the best Limburger pairing of the evening was Chimay. The flavors enhanced one another and brought out pleasant notes in each. Eric also enjoyed the Delirium Tremens and Alifair liked the Lindemans.

The order of beers was wrong…drinking the Gueuze before the Belgian Strong Pale Ale killed the palate.