I was several years into our French adventure when I discovered to my horror, that there were les règles de politesse (rules of politeness) which had completely escaped me. Oh la la, I’d been an ugly American all that time!
Of course I should have realized, that in the land of liberté, egalité, fraternité, one must share the prime parts of the cheese.
Who knew that cheese, even slices, had prime parts? But indeed they do. And when there’s a plâteau de fromage, you must not be a greedy goat and take the best pieces for yourself (as I’d been unwittingly doing for years).
So stay with me, Francophiles, this is going to be complex.
First of all, there is the rind and there is the dough. Your role is to not leave the rind for the last person; the dough should be distributed as evenly as possible. For info, the taste gets stronger as it gets closer to the rind. This means any small round cheese, such as a Camembert, should be cut into wedges, so each person gets all the flavors.
Easy enough. But if a wedge from a large round is served on a platter, like a big slice of brie, the rules change. In this case, the first cutter slices off the nose, but at an angle, never straight. The next person cuts a diagonal slice, making a smaller wedge. Subsequent diners cut perpendicular to the rind. Got it?
But what if the slice is laid on its end, like a big slice of Roquefort? In that case, cut each dough corner off at an angle. Then cut in slices perpendicular to the rind.
Logs are cut in parallel slices, but you may remove the end first if there is a thick rind. Pyramidal and square shapes should be cut like a cake. There are additional acceptable ways to cut a square cheese, too complicated and mathematical to cover here.
Runny cheeses in a round box, such as époisse, are dipped out with a spoon, and eating the rind is optional.
Firm cheeses, usually laid flat in a rectangle, are cut in slices lengthwise if rind is only on one end, crosswise if rind runs along parallel edges.
Now, you cheese gluttons, get out there and eat some fromage!
Some Ideas for a Great French Cheese Platter: Be sure to serve cheeses at room temperature, and serve them after dinner, not before. Choose a balance of flavors and textures: firm and soft cheeses, sharp and mild. Three or four is a good number. Serve with a garnish of fruit and/or something to spread on top: walnuts soaked in honey, jams, or chutney. For an alternative to the plâteau de fromage, try serving a special goat cheese: see my post called Goats on a Log.
In the COMMENTS: Debbie, Ann, Judy, and Connie have all been to Le Rochepot, and yes Connie, let's all chip in and buy the place! Kiki, I was sorry I missed that Rick Steves show on Burgundy, but then I found this on Youtube: Rick Steves Burgundy: Profoundly French. Thanks for the tip!