SaveComments Post Image The other week we asked our readers to pose any and all questions on cheese to our cheesemonger. (Lines are still open if you have a query of your own.) Herein lies the answer to reader jeffzelli’s question: “It’s a bit embarrassing, but I have to ask: what is the etiquette for eating a cheese flight? My friend and I had a cheese and wine flight at Bin 36 in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. We had side plates and a normal tableware setting, but no toothpicks or special utensils for the small chunks of cheese on the serving board. I decided to use fingers for the harder cheeses and a knife for gooey ones. Is that okay? And is it okay to put the harder pieces of cheese on a small piece of toast on the second taste? We’ve discussed how to taste cheese, but how does one eat it? Especially in a formal setting? In terms of utensils, forks and knives are the obvious– and sometimes only available– choice. They’re perfectly reasonable vehicles with which to transport your cheese, regardless of cheese style. What you may not know, however, and what our reader intuited, is that using your fingers to eat individual pieces of cheese on a formal cheese plate is perfectly reasonable. It’s more neat to use your fingers for harder cheeses that aren’t as messy, of course. Touching your cheese informs your palate as to the cheese style, texture, age, and fat content and can ultimately enhance your experience of knowing what’s on your plate. Don’t underestimate the service a knife provides. Dinner knives are perfect for delving into the creamiest of cheeses, and since they aren’t sharp, eat the cheese directly off of the knife itself. It’s one of the best ways to eat cheese like a pro. It also eases the voyage from plate to nose to mouth. Always smell your cheese before eating: you taste more with your nose than with your taste buds, actually. As far as bread is concerned, it’s there for a reason. To fully appreciate your cheese selection, eat your cheese on its own and use bread or crackers as a palate cleanser rather than a canvas. When you spread cheese on bread, it actually breaks down (or, more appropriately, smooshes) the natural structure and integrity of the cheese. That’s why you’ll often see harder cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano in broken, irregular pieces rather than neat slices; it’s best when cut with a sharp pointed knife that allows for the cheese to break into chunks on its own along the natural breaking points. The same is true for soft cheeses, which prefer to maintain their natural shape when being eaten. If you don’t enjoy eating your cheese plain, try incorporating accompaniments that may arrive with it. Pay attention to the order in which the cheese was plated. Cheeses should be consumed from mildest to strongest, since you may miss the nuance of a mild cheese after eating a stinging, astringent blue. Ask your server if it’s unclear. It probably goes without saying, but take into consideration your setting. A dip of the finger into an oozing triple creme may be better suited for a gastropub than a four star, once in a lifetime dining experience. But in either situation, do what makes you feel comfortable– the most important rules in the world of cheese are in regards to enjoyment rather than etiquette!

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Get the Kitchn Daily in your inbox. 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

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.

At home

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. KART cheese platter © Ed Carpenter 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.

Pairing cheeses

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.

Multiple pairings

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.

Discover all our suggested pairings

How to cut cheese

Round, square, heart-shaped, pyramid-shaped, etc.France produces over 300 types of cheese. A buttery Brie, some zippy Gorgonzola, a sprinkle of nutty Parmesan—whether cheese is eaten on its own or as an ingredient in recipes, Americans love it. Annual consumption has been growing steadily for decades, and last year reached about 39 pounds per person; that’s about three-fourths of a pound per week. But as we nibble away, concerns about calories, sodium, and fat persist. So where does cheese fit in a healthy diet? “Cheese is a nutritious food. It’s a concentrated source of protein and calcium,” says Joan Salge Blake, RDN, a clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast Spot On. An ounce of cheddar, for instance, has almost 200 mg of calcium and 8 grams of protein. Where we often go wrong is in the way we eat it (on pizza, in deli sandwiches, with crackers). Here’s how to make cheese a nutrition win. The major concerns about cheese are that much of its fat is the heart-unfriendly saturated type and that it packs a lot of calories in a small amount. Brie, for example, has about 6 grams of saturated fat and 120 calories in a quarter-cup (about an ounce). That’s about one-third of the maximum amount of saturated fat someone eating 1,500 calories should have in a day. Cheeses that are lower in saturated fat and calories include fresh mozzarella, soft goat cheese, feta, and ricotta. But some research suggests that dairy fat may not be as harmful as once thought. A 2018 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involving almost 3,000 men and women ages 65 and older, found no connection between levels of fatty acids in the blood from dairy and a higher risk of heart disease or death from any cause. Still, you don’t want to consume too much of any kind of saturated fat. “The dose makes the poison,” says Alexandra Salcedo, RDN, a clinical dietitian at UC San Diego Health. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, replacing just 5 percent of saturated fat with the unsaturated kind—found in foods like nuts, olive oil, and avocados—reduced heart disease risk up to 25 percent. For a healthy portion, stick with 1 or 2 ounces. “Savor cheese, but stretch it,” Salge Blake says. Use a cheese knife (it yields thinner slices), and pick a flavorful variety like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton, or feta so that you’ll be satisfied with a smaller helping. Instead of piling cheese on crackers typically made with refined grains and sometimes added sugars, pair it with fruits and vegetables, which most Americans don’t get enough of. This swap will add nutrients and fill you up more, thanks to the fiber and water in produce. Salcedo likes mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and honey-whipped ricotta with fresh sliced figs and pistachios. If you like crackers, look for ones that are 100 percent whole grain and contain 150 mg of sodium or less per serving. Trying to eat vegetarian some days? Incorporate cheese in a veggie-rich omelet, salad, soup, or grain bowl. “Cheese enhances the protein and fat intake of your meals to help promote fullness for longer,” Salcedo says, “and may delay absorption of blood sugar into the body.” Salge Blake makes lentil soup full of vitamin-­dense vegetables and completely covers the top with a thin layer of Parmesan grated with a microplane. Incidentally, if you have trouble digesting lactose (a common problem as we age), cheeses like Parmesan and manchego are a good bet. “The harder the cheese, the less lactose,” she says. Instead of following dinner with a piece of cake or slice of pie, make a small cheese plate with Brie or another favorite cheese, plus nuts and fresh or dried fruit. You’ll get calcium and protein, save a lot of added sugars, and finish your meal with a true treat. Headshot of Health Freelance writer Lisa Lombardi Add Lombardi Lisa Lombardi is a freelance writer in the New York area who reports on health, nutrition, and parenting.

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