The extended title reads: How to Cut Brie & Other French Cheese Etiquette. But of course that title was too long and didn’t fit. If you’ve been reading my blog for a veeery long time, you will recognise this post as one that appeared many years ago. It’s such a great tutorial however, and I thought it was time for a redo.
Are you planning to visit France? Eat in a French restaurant? Meet your future French in-laws? There is a certain cheese etiquette that must be followed.
Let’s say you’re going to host a dinner with French cuisine; you’ll want to make sure you start with the proper bread. In the absence of baguettes available, go for the crustiest bread you can find. There should be copious amounts, as it’s eaten throughout the meal, with the salad, and along with the cheese.
It’s fine to put the bread directly on the table. And if you’re amongst close friends and family, you can rip chunks off from the main loaf like this:
If you’re entire being revolts at the thought, cut it in small slices, diagonally like this:
Next, the wine. No matter what wine you’ve had with your meal, you need red with the cheese. Red wine is always served room temperature.
In our alcohol-free house, it’s Bonne Nouvelle. It helps to cut the palate in between bites of cheese (and it contains as much lycophene and a fraction of the calories that normal wine has). I’m afraid I cannot advocate for its superior taste.
Alright. Now on to the cheese. If you are hosting, a proper cheese platter should contain three cheeses minimum: a soft like camembert or brie; a hard like Cantal, Comté or Gruyère; and a chèvre (goat). If you’re going to throw a couple extra in, you can include a pungent blue or Roquefort (not quite the same thing – blue is less sharp), or a surprise, like Saint Nectaire or Reblochon or Tomme de Savoie or Morbier or … well, if you’re in France you have literally hundreds to choose from.
I should add here that the cheese platter is to follow the main meal, not precede it. It is not an appetizer. It also follows the salad course if you have one, and is to be eaten right before dessert. Although restaurants offer the choice between cheese and dessert, a guest in your home will expect both cheese and dessert. Cheeky, huh?
If there was one cheese that had to represent France, it would be the camembert. It stinks up your refrigerator – and your kitchen when you open the door to the fridge; nevertheless it’s here to stay.
Americans tend to eat the milder brie, but camembert is the proper size to serve at the table, whereas rounds of brie are much larger so you have to buy pie-type slices (or serve huge rounds of brie at wedding feasts). It’s interesting to note that most cheeses are named after a region. And although there is a Camembert in Normandy, they didn’t get their act together to protect their cheese label, so now a camembert can be made anywhere. However, people tend to buy the ones labeled, “made in Normandy.”
See that it’s marked lait cru? It means that it’s non-pasteurized and therefore tastes much better (unless you’re pregnant, in which case it tastes just as good, but puts you at risk for lysteria poisoning). Anyway, if you eat non-pasteurized cheese, you won’t get that ammonia taste from the white crust when the cheese starts to get old. It just tastes … better.
You should also know that the hard cheeses are cooked, and are therefore safe to eat while pregnant.
Okay, I bought a brebis cheese instead of a chèvre – (sheep instead of goat). It’s milder, but will fill my chèvre quota for the cheese platter. However, I’ve included a chèvre down below to show you how to cut cheese when it’s in log form.
Off to the side, I have brie and Reblochon. They don’t fit on my cheese platter so will have to wait for another dinner. However, I did want to show you how to properly cut brie – (le point principal of this post).
And here is my cheese platter:
You can see the blue, which is St Agur. The hard cheese is Comté, which is pronounced “con-tay” with a tight little “o” as if it were pronounced by a disapproving old lady.
I put the brebis, the camembert and the Tomme next to the blue and the Comté.
First, the Tomme Grise des Monts.
Gris(e) means grey, and you can see the grey crust here. “Des Monts” means “from the mountains.” You can eat the grey crust on chèvre, which is just ashes, but you can’t eat this hard crust. Tomme is pronounced like tome, and not tome-ay or tommy. There are lots of different types of Tommes.
Now when the cheese is shaped in a round, it’s fairly logical. You cut pie pieces (not too large) and put them on your plate.
Okay this slice is a little large.
The brebis is cut in a similar pie-shaped way.
When it’s shaped like a book – rectangular – you cut the bottom edge off, all the way across. Unless, I should mention, it’s a huge slice of cheese and is too much to cut across. In that case you would cut a triangle off each edge.
When you get towards the back of the cheese with a crust, you want to start cutting it this way:
to avoid the last person being left with …
all rind and no cheese. In fact, the whole cheese etiquette comes down to leaving the platter as pretty as you got it.
(And not being a glutton).
Remember the chèvre with ashes (which you eat)? It’s in a log form, so you just cut round slices.
My father-in-law recommends cutting in the middle first and taking slices from there. He said that you can then shove the two ends together and it will keep the centre from drying out. He made sure to clarify that this is not an etiquette tip, just a practical one.
You take your slice and then put the two ends back together.
Going back to your cheese selecting process. When it comes time to take your cheese, pick only 2 or 3 types and take them all at once. Only in informal settings will the cheese platter get passed on to you a second time. Now, if you’re really being a gourmand (because delicious French cheeses are such a rarity for you), take something of everything; but make sure the pieces are as small as you can make them, like this.
Because each piece of cheese has to be eaten on a bite-size piece of bread, and once you cut all your pieces of cheese small enough, that makes a lot of bites. You basically rip a small piece of bread off,
and put your piece of cheese on before popping the whole thing into your mouth (the same way you’re supposed to eat sushi). You should not bite into the bread/cheese and then yank half of it back out of your mouth. It goes in all at once. Here are some examples:
You can see how you might start to fill up quickly.
My brother was at an expensive restaurant for New Year’s Eve in France one year and he shocked a woman by spreading his foie gras on a piece of bread. She spluttered, “It’s not peanut butter!”
So no spreading the cheese either, okay?
Now we get to the relevant point – no matter where you live – because it’s everywhere: the brie.
First of all, you do eat the white crust. If you want to scrape it off a little bit to get rid of the fuzz, you can. But don’t completely remove it because the skin is the best part. See here? All the cream collects close to the skin.
You should cut the slice from either side equally, like this:
You should never cut it straight across, which is termed “cutting off its nose.”
And then (don’t) continue to cut straight across all the way up until the last person just ends up with the crust. That’s considered very rude.
And you should certainly never dig out the soft inside, leaving only the mutilated white crust for the next person,
unless you want that person to look around in disgust and exclaim, “Who cut the cheese?”