With over 500 varieties of cheese carefully cultivated according to time-honored regional recipes, France prides itself on the high quality and rich flavor of its cheeses. Cheese may be served at or after any meal, enjoyed as a goûter (mid afternoon snack) among friends and family, or paired with one of France's fine wines. It is a cultural staple in this culinary country. For international visitors unfamiliar with serving and enjoying a fresh Camembert or a well-aged Roquefort, elegantly cutting a serving in front of French friends or business colleagues can be mastered. To properly cut a cheese à la Française, follow these four tips and enjoy this delicious national French tradition.
- Rind-Dough Ratio: When cutting into a cheese, the French balance how much rind and dough is in each slice. Because the rind may be too strong in taste or too tough to consume, a good slice will include plenty of the doughy middle. Cut straight down through the rind and make sure that you're not scooping out dough from the rest of the cheese. Save some for the rest of the dinner party!
- Too Much of a Good Thing: As the adage goes, don't bite off more than you can chew. Quality French cheese is rich and may be priced as a luxury item for some; so serving yourself a huge slice is greedy. It may also disagree with your system later. If the cheese is served after the meal, the hostess may think that your double dairy portion means you didn't enjoy dinner or didn't receive enough to eat. Observe how much the hosts serve themselves, and follow their lead.
- What’s in a Shape? With so many cultivation techniques and types of cheese, the perfect slice can take many forms. Round, solid cheeses such as Camembert and Reblochon are cut like a cake, with triangular slices held together by the rind. When cutting log-shaped cheeses such as Saint-Maure, remove the rind at each end and cut an even slice. Old, crumbly cheeses with a harder texture may be broken apart with a knife or shaved with a peeler. Runny cheese varieties such as Mont d’Or, that may be served warm or chilled, are dished out with a spoon and enjoyed with bread. When in doubt, ask your host to demonstrate how to properly serve cheese.
- Hands Off: When cutting a slice of cheese, do not let your hands touch the dough; you may use a cheese implement to lift the slice from the block by the rind. Do not use the same knife to cut two different cheese varieties. Use a fork or a piece of bread to enjoy the cheese.
Knowing how to properly slice and serve cheese the French way is an important part of adapting to the culture, as it demonstrates your dining finesse and your appreciation for France's culinary craftsmanship. The next time you're offered an opportunity to try a Morbier or a Brie, follow these guidelines and bon appetit!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.