Last summer, when my husband and two sons and I were in Lyon, France, we’d just had an amazing dinner outside in the garden belonging our friends Nils and Charlott: Ottolenghi meat balls, eggplant which was so simply roasted with olive oil and salt, it melted in your mouth and changed my older son’s mind forever about aubergine. This was followed by a succulent tomato and mozzarella salad with a little bit of olive oil and a blueberry vinegar we had brought as a gift from Maine. And then Nils arrived with a plate of three cheeses. In France, it is customary to have a cheese course at the end of dinner. Most often, this course is comprised of 3-5 different tastes and textures–say a chèvre, a Comté, and a Reblochon (how to make a delicious cheese plate like the French is described in this article, here). Newsflash: you don’t need a ton; that’s relatively gauche. Too little would be less than three. But those three don’t have to be big honking Wisconsin cheddar type cheeses. They can be small but pack a lot of punch in taste. The French are terrific at knowing the nuanced right amount (unlike the bloated cheese plates that are overflowing and we are all used to at cocktail and dinner parties in the U.S.)
And then Nils told us about how to cut the cheese; how it’s different for each cheese and the basic manners for cutting cheese are about making sure that everyone gets a bit of the yummy creamy morsels, some of the rind, and a slice that is pleasingly sumptuous yet not vulgar, never scant. I am always a fan of teaching my children table manners, so any lesson from a French uncle-type, I will gladly cede the reigns. To brush up in preparation for our trip to Paris and back to Lyon this spring, I found this really charming video from France 24. The absolutely darling fromager explains in great detail everything you need to know for cutting the cheese–in France, or back home with the cheeses you smuggle back in your suitcase. Now, you can have perfect manners, even while serving cheese you got at the Star Market in the U.S. And if no one notices, that’s just fine. It means they are enjoying all the right bits of delicious of cheese they got in their slice.
For more information on how to cut the cheese, the cookbook/cultural lessons book by French author Francine Chough, Bricks in a Pebble Sauce, also has an entire chapter devoted to serving cutting the cheese (she even suggests a teaspoon for an especially runny cheese!) . She explains French table manners, manners for children at the table, and many other tips, hacks and tricks that will make your cooking easier, better, and more French, and your time in France seamless.
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