There's nothing quite so delicious as a piece of genuine Italian cheese. Whether it's a hunk of melting Taleggio or a crunchy sliver of Pecorino Romano, there's no denying the country really knows how to make cheese (among its other notable food products). And, of course, when traveling to Italy you'll probably want to bring back some of its famous cheese to share with friends and family, or just to save for later. When considering whether to bring cheese from Italy to the USA it's important to understand the TSA restrictions and regulations for your checked luggage.
Rules About Importing Cheese
The U.S. customs and border protection agency is very strict about what sorts of cheese can come into the country. The Department of Agriculture (USDA)does not approve any cheeses that are unpasteurized or that have been aged less than 60 days. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol notes that most "cured" cheeses are admissible food items as long as they are for personal use.
The CBP allows solid cheese that is hard or semi-soft and does not contain meat, as well as butter, butter oil and cultured milk products like yogurt and sour cream. Ricotta, Brie, Feta, Mozzarella and Buffalo mozzarella are also permissible. Check if the cheese you'd like to import is pasteurized or processed. Anything that isn't should be left behind.
Packing Cheese for the Airplane
Passengers can bring certain cheese onto the airplane in their carry-on luggage. Because the cheese likely won't be refrigerated for several hours, especially if you're on an overseas flight back to the states, it's important to wrap the cheese carefully. Aged, hard cheeses, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, are easier to travel with. These cheeses have less moisture, so they should be fine out of the fridge for at least a day. Soft cheeses, like mozzarella, need more care. Wrap them thoroughly in air-tight containers or have them vacuum packed in plastic bags and keep them in the top of your luggage. Give everything an extra layer of plastic in case there is spillage. It’s no problem to check with airport security in advance for any specific restrictions.
Taking Cheese Through Security
There are typically no issues taking solid foods through security at the airport, both in Italy and in the U.S., especially if they are commercially packaged like olive oil, condiments or boxed goods. However, travelers should be aware of how much liquid is in a container of cheese like Buffalo mozzarella, which is often stored in water. Be sure the liquid is a permissible amount for a carry-on bag, usually 3 oz. Prepare to take out any packed cheese to show security in case there is an issue.
If you're really dying to munch on that unpasteurized cheese you bought in Rome, there is one exception that will allow you to travel with it. Since passengers can't bring unpasteurized cheese through U.S. Customs, the best way is simply to consume the cheese before you get to the American border. Keep it in your hand luggage, and chow down on the cheese in the country of origin airport or on the plane (although if it's a particularly smelly cheese be prepared for angry neighbors). It's not worth the risk of trying to sneak it past U.S. Border Patrol, so always ensure that your souvenir cheese will be allowed into the country when you buy it – if not, you better eat it quickly.