How to eat cheese
Cheese is not there just to be served up on plates. While cheese platters are a real icon of French dining, this is an ingredient we use extensively in our daily diets. Cheese can of course be enjoyed instead of a dessert, but we also spread it on bread at snack time, have it in our sandwiches at lunch, on toast when in need of comfort-food or in a croque-monsieur when we are on the go, in little cubes with aperitifs, as a meal in itself, between meals or as nibbles... Whatever the occasion, there is always room for cheese.
Cheese, whatever the time of day
Cheese can be adapted to all types and times of usage, from the most traditional to the most contemporary. It is found on breakfast tables and eaten before and between meals and at lunch and dinner. It is a snack that both young and old enjoy, and can be served with aperitifs, at brunch or in lunchboxes. Key moments like dinner and lunch offer particularly varied possibilities, because cheese covers multiple bases:
- It is delicious, has many different varieties, and is something we can constantly rediscover.
- It is an authentic part of French culture and a produce of the terroir. It represents French identity and its unique and well-preserved heritage, and is one of the last bastions of natural eating.
- It is practical and exceptionally adaptable. Whatever the occasion or situation, whether you are eating it on the go, on its own or with practically any other flavour, cheese offers huge creative potential. It can be prepared quickly and easily or more elaborately (or simply eaten as is), and has many formats and uses.
Cooking with cheese
In cookery, cheese can be a main ingredient. Its natural qualities are what make it such a firm favourite, and it is a key part of French cuisine. It is used in hot and cold dishes and can even be added at the last minute to a main meal. It is a perfect accompaniment to pasta, gratins and bread. In sweet and savoury dishes, it goes well with fruit and vegetables.
Many traditional regional dishes give cheese centre stage, often in melted form. It is the key ingredient for recipes like raclette, fondue, tartiflette and gratins. It also adds that all-important touch of mildness and texture to pasta, quiche, pizza, croque-monsieurs, toast, pastries, crepes and paninis. Whether you choose packaged, processed cheese or a fresh, traditional, regional option, sauces, salads, verrines, soups and bread slices would not be the same without them, and neither would our meat and fish dishes.
Buffets are a fun new way to include cheese in our daily diets. The possibilities are endless. Whether it is enjoyed cubed, on skewers, melted into tuiles, with fruit or in puff pastries, cheese has a texture, original uses and a practicality that everyone can enjoy.
Cheese platters are a traditional part of celebratory or family meals in France. They reflect the diversity of French expertise, and are presented at the end of a meal, before dessert, bringing together on a single plate a range of regions, producers and skills. There are certain set criteria for French-style platters. Make sure your presentation is finessed, provide plenty of accompaniments to stimulate the senses and vary shapes, textures, colours and flavours to create a one-of-a-kind experience.
First of all, cheese platters are visually enticing. It is important to present colours carefully to make your platter even more attractive. It is also a good idea to combine different origins (i.e.: cheeses using cow’s, goat’s and ewe’s milks), categories (soft, washed rind, pressed, raw pressed, mould rind and so on) and maturity, so there is something to delight all your guests.
Always prize quality over quantity – it is far better to have a small selection of excellent cheeses than a plethora of ill-judged ones! A platter should have no more than four to eight different cheeses, which are presented in ascending order of intensity (the order in which they should be tasted).
Check the temperature: do not forget to take your platter out of the refrigerator two hours before serving.
Most importantly, use imaginative, natural materials to present your cheeses as creatively as possible – these might include wood, marble, slate, straw or leaves. To make your display doubly interesting, pair with bread and wine.
The cheese platter is French gastronomy’s piece de resistance. While some newcomers to the restaurant scene might favor a single cheese over a platter, others take pride in presenting their cheese range before dessert is offered. In regional France, platters often reflect the rich local produce. Diners are enticed with an assortment of maturities and flavours, and regional producers are presented along with their histories, expressing pride in the local terroir. In Paris or regions without an emblematic producer, use an assortment which reflects your own tastes or presents French classics from camembert to roquefort, comté, goat’s cheese and maroilles.
Bread, wine and cheese: the perfect trio
France loves cheese – but it loves wine too! Both are unmistakeable symbols of its farming heritage and culture. Cheese, bread and wine are the ideal trio. When the cheese arrives during a meal, the question of which wines to pair with it arises: white or red, burgundy or alsace? The fact that wine is not the only thing that reveals a cheese’s flavours makes the choice even trickier. Tea, champagne, beer, saké and spirits can all make for excellent pairings which you can put to use to experiment with the many flavours that a good cheese offers.
Sometimes, it can work well to pair butter with strong cheeses, or herbs and spices with fresh cheeses. Again, it is all about subtlety: learning about cheese is as long a process as the French terroir is rich! Some breads pair perfectly with certain cheeses, and the same goes for wine.
It is possible to bring out the best in your cheeses by using the right accompaniments. Here are a few suggestions:
- Spices: cumin & munster, herbes de Provence & fresh cheese
- Dried fruit: Zante currants & Roquefort, hazelnuts & abondance, nuts, almonds, etc.
- Fresh fruit: apple & emmental, grapes & blue cheese
- Breads with various flours (nut, oil, corn, spelt, etc.) and textures (fresh baguettes, sourdough, rye)
- Wine and other produce: Roquefort & Sauternes, munster & Gewurztraminer are still unbeatable classics. But there are other, less well-known pairings: consider tea, coffee, champagne or spirits. In the vast family of whiskies, there are very clear pairings.
How to cut cheese
Round, square, heart-shaped, pyramid-shaped, etc.France produces over 300 types of cheese.