It’s travel season. Maybe you’re going to Europe. Maybe you’d like to bring home some of that stinky raw-milk Brie. But can you? Do you have to bury it in your suitcase and “forget” to declare it? I get asked this a lot. People think they can’t enter the U.S. with raw-milk cheese, or that a wedge has to be vacuum-sealed to pass muster.
Which of the European cheeses pictured above would you have to surrender at the U.S. border? Let’s stop speculating about what’s permissible and ask Customs and Border Patrol.
Here’s the link to bookmark. Alternatively, print out the page and have it with you when you re-enter the U.S. Because, as you may have experienced, it doesn’t matter what you think if you encounter a Customs agent who thinks otherwise. When they’re unsure, they say no. Having the rules at your fingertips will help.
As you can see, most cheeses are permissible if they’re for your personal consumption.
Cheeses containing meat. I can’t think of one, but if there is one, it’s not welcome here. (No big loss.)
Cottage cheese, ricotta or a “cheese that pours like heavy cream” (no clue what that is) would also get the boot unless it comes from a country free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease. Fortunately, all of Europe’s cheese-producing countries are FMD free. You might want to have this link accessible, too.
As for vacuum-packaging, that’s up to you. “How the cheese is packaged has no influence on how CBP regulates entry,” CBP public affairs specialist Steven Bansbach assured me by e-mail.
Just to be confident your raw-milk Brie de Meaux will make it home, I asked Bansbach this question:
“Is a cheese permitted entry if it’s solid (not pourable), made with unpasteurized milk and from a non-FMD-infected country?”
He replied, “You should have no problem. Please remember to declare it when you arrive so you don’t have any hiccups.”
In principle, all three cheeses pictured above should sail through if you declare them. Of course, “should” is the scary word. It’s no fun to do battle with Border Patrol after a long flight, even when you know you’re right. And remember that cheese will suffer if it gets warm on the journey home. If you can’t reliably keep it cool or cold, better to leave it behind and savor the memory.