I thought I knew a little something about cheese…and then I moved to France. Not only are there delicious cheeses in abundance, but there are also RULES about cheese: how it will be served, how you will cut it, how you will taste it. No more eating sub-par cheese straight from the block à la Liz Lemon. It’s time to get cultured! Here’s my simple guide on how to eat cheese like the French.
Buying Your Cheese
To make a true French cheese plate, you’re going to need at least three different types of cheese from three different texture groups: soft, medium, and hard. Here are a few examples of each cheese texture. I’ve included both French and easy-to-find North American options because, believe it or not, some of these are actually banned in the US.
Soft: Brie, camembert, pélardon, rocamadour, goat’s cheese, and fresh mozzarella.
Medium: Roquefort, morbier, port salut, havarti, gouda, muenster, and provelone.
Hard: Comte, cantal, gruyère, aged mimolette, aged cheddar, emmental, and swiss cheese.
Ideally, you’ll also want various ages or flavor-strengths of cheese. For example, if you buy a strong-tasting cheese like roquefort, you may want to balance it with a mild cheese like comte or mozzarella.
While you’re at the store, you’ll also want to buy fresh bread (NOT crackers—catastrophe!) and of course, wine. If you want other snacks with your cheese plate, some good options are olives, cornichons, sliced meats, dry cured sausage, dried fruit, and nuts.
Serving Your Cheese
Cheese should be served in whole wedges or rounds. I know Americans like to slice their cheese (or rather, buying them pre-sliced), but try to resist the urge. Having a bunch of untouched blocks of cheese in your home makes you look cultured and wealthy. Embrace your place in the bourgeoisie!
Cheese should be served with fresh sliced bread. Why are you allowed to slice the bread but not the cheese? Je ne sais pas. But the French have been doing this for hundreds of years, so don’t ask too many questions.
Cutting Your Cheese
Now, the moment has come! Your guests have arrived, and you can finally dive into that pure, unblemished block of cheese. Announce “bon appetit!” to signify that people can begin eating.
Each person should cut and serve for themselves. Cuts should always maintain the beauty of the original shape. Here’s a handy infographic I made of how to cut various shapes of cheese:
Eating Your Cheese
Each person should serve cheese to their own plate. But wait, don’t eat—there’s one more rule!
Cheese should be eaten by cutting a small bite, tearing off a piece of bread, and putting them together to eat in one mouthful. Never bite directly into the cheese or bread. We’re not savages here.
Eat slowly and savor each cheese. Sip wine. Notice how the flavors play off of one another. Chat. Laugh. Let the meal stretch on for hours.
Even if you don’t like following rules, there’s no denying the French know how to take a simple food and make an experience of it. Slow down, and see what they can teach you.
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