I see it all the time.  The cheese tray arrives and everyone around the table is in awe. The awe stems from the shape and variety of the cheeses, their aromas and runny to dry textures that promise so much, the vivid colors that can range from deep grey to blushing orange.

It also stems from fear induced by the glaring, elephant-in-the-room question: How do I cut into these cheeses (and not make a fool of myself)?

If you’re at my table, I save you before you fall by explaining, then demonstrating. I understand the fear – I lived it myself until I learned the French rules for properly cutting into cheese. Rules that my French friends break unapologetically and often, I might add .

For a perfect cheese tray, go raw milk and as local as possible.  Go creamy to harder, and end with gentle, salty softness, like a Roquefort.  Four or five cheeses is plenty - more becomes confusing.

For a perfect cheese tray, go raw milk and as local as possible. Offer creamy to harder, and end with gentle, salty softness, like a Roquefort. Four or five cheeses is plenty – more becomes confusing.

Here is a perfect cheese tray. It’s modest and it has all the appropriate elements, ranging from a soft, young goat cheese that has been rolled in ashes mixed with salt to retard its development and insure its creaminess; a Camembert de Normandie, the heart and soul of Normandy (if only I could blog the aroma); a 30 month aged Comté, the Queen of French cheeses and, recent polls suggest, the country’s best-loved; and Roquefort, with its strips of blue mold that come from a fresh, white sheeps’ milk cheese being injected with Penicillium roqueforti, obtained from spore developed on rye bread.

Had fun with the Roquefort....

Had fun with the Roquefort….

Note that round cheeses are cut like cakes and wedges are cut into strips until you get within shouting distance of the rind; then, the direction changes so each person gets their share of creamy, nutty, delicious cheese and no one is left holding just the rind.  If you have a heart shaped cheese, you have to keep one thing in mind: make sure the cheese looks decent after you’ve cut it, and not like a child has gnawed into it.  For logs, just cut them into thick rounds.

Serve white bread- it is simply a vehicle for the star of the show.  You can also include a delicate whole wheat with walnuts or dried fruit, for those third and fourth bites of cheese, when the first impact of their flavors has been savored.

You will learn lots more about this and other arts of the table in my upcoming book, IN A FRENCH KITCHEN, due out from Gotham in May 2015.


Stay tuned and Bon App!


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16 Responses to Cutting into Cheese

  1. Barbara Wetzel says:

    So beautiful and informative. Mixing cuts (diagonals ,slices) adds a visual pleasure to the anticipitation of tasting. Eager to see your book.

    • Susan says:

      Thank you! Yes, I agree. Not only visual pleasure, but knowing how to cut into the cheese makes it all so much simpler and more flavorful!

  2. Kelly says:

    Great tips from an expert! I will keep this in mind the next time I serve a cheese tray. It definitely inspires me to run to the store and get some French cheeses this week!

    • Susan says:

      Kelly, Try the Herve Mons. Look, too, for Jean d’Alos cheeses. He exports a lot, and he’s another expert. Let me know if you find some.

  3. I never thought about cutting up a cheese platter before. What a great idea! I am sure all of my guests will be thankful for that tip.

    • Susan says:

      Cathy, This is one way to approach it, so each person can take just a piece. It is prettier to present the cheeses whole, of course.

  4. Thank you for the info, Susan.

    It’s always awkward being the first to cut into a fresh cheese or cake, but I also don’t like waiting!

    Counting the days until your book is on my nightstand!

    • Susan says:

      Thanks, Lindsay! I’m counting too – still in copy edits, but once those are finished, the time will speed by. And no more awkwardness now that you know how to do it! Just keep that knife steady…

  5. Roxanne Desai says:

    Always enjoy your posts and books Susan -beautiful pictures and so informative. Thanks

  6. Fred Lac says:

    I disagree (and other French people would too) on your Roquefort cut. With your way some people get cheated in the amount of blue they get (in particular the 2 corners). it should be diagonally form the bottom. Width changing depending on how much you want.

  7. Thanks for cheese send – fun reading comments -Fred Lac’s comment is “best in show” Paulette Perrien New Orleans.

  8. jenandkerry says:

    I loved this post. I ate a LOT of cheese during my week at On Rue Tatin, and learned so much helpful info that Susan and the French just know effortlessly.

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