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Feb 17, 2011 03:56 PM

Cheese Plate Etiquette

I am just starting to develop a love for all things cheese and sometimes order a cheese plate at more upscale restaurants. But I have no idea how to consume the goods!

- Fork or knife to divvy-up the cheese?
- Use your fingers to pick-up the hard cheese?
- What to do with the honey?
- How about the bread - I assume you don't make mini-cheese sandwiches?
- And what's the role of fruit compote that is often added to the plate?

Many thanks for any insight you can share.

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  1. I assume you're talking about sharing a cheese plate. Generally, you cut a section off a piece or two (unless someone says "I don't like Roquefort" and there are only two of you). You can eat them by cutting a piece off with a knife and fork with or without a condiment on top. You can also spread some on a section of a piece of bread--not the whole piece--and pop that in your mouth with or without some condiment spread on top. At least, that's how I eat a cheese plate.

    1. Cheeses should always be cut so that each person gets some of the rind. If you are cutting a triangular piece of cheese, you should cut from the point towards the back rind to make smaller triangles. If the piece is square or rectangular, cut from the front to the back, making smaller rectangles.

      You may use your fingers to pick up any cheese, soft or hard, unless its a rindless soft cheese that would make a mess of your hands. Honey and fruit compotes are accompaniments to cheese. In the case of honey, you may dab a little on the cheese. For the fruit compote, you could do the same or you could put the cheese in your mouth first, then a little of the fruit compote and try them together. Since you are just beginning to learn about cheeses, I recommend that you taste any unfamiliar cheese by itself first, before adding extras. Not only will this allow you to experience the essential flavor of the cheese, but you'll also be able to determine whether you like the cheese better alone or with an accompaniment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a purist and not eating the extras. It's not bad form to leave them on your plate if you prefer the cheeses by themselves.

      As for the bread, it's primary purpose is to serve as a palate cleanser between cheeses. Before you switch to another cheese, eat a small piece of bread, take a sip or two of water, or both. If a cheese is soft, you may also spread it on bread.

      1. The etiquette will, presumably, depend on where in the world you are.

        In France, for example, cheese is eaten with a knife and fork. Often with a dressed salad as accompaniment. And bread of course.

        Where I am, we cut off bits with a knife and eat it with our fingers. Followed by a piece of bread. Or, if it's an old-fashioned palce that serves savoury biscuits, the cheese goes on top of the biscuit. The plate is usually served to each diner and not as a single plate to share. Personally, I prefer the French style.

        I'm not familiar with honey being served with cheese and have no idea how it might be eaten (I'd leave it on the plate as it just seems the wrong accompaniment). Similarly, I've never been served a fruit compote - although chutney is often served. I presume both are intended as a contrasting taste, although I usually leave the chutney.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          Honey is usually dabbed on cheese with a knife or a small spoon. It goes better with some cheeses than others. It can work well with blue cheeses, where the sweetness offsets the pungency and saltiness of the cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano is sometimes enjoyed with chestnut honey, which has a pleasant bitterness. Some people like to use honey with mild cheeses, like Brie to give them a little more "oomph."

          I think that too much emphasis is placed these days on pairing cheeses with something else: cheese and chutney, cheese and jam, cheese and charcuterie, cheese and wine, beer, cider, single-malt scotch, coffee, etc. There is no doubt that such combinations can be successful, e.g., a cheese matched with the appropriate wine. However, a great cheese needs no accompaniment and should be tasted on its own first. It's not necessarily true that adding another component will enhance the experience. Too often it simply masks the flavor of the cheese.

          1. re: cheesemaestro


            Roquefort with honey and a glass of Sauternes. Yes, please.

            We have a French friend who avidly and passionately loves his cheese course. But I know to bring a jar of my red-fruit preserves to the table, because he eats jam on ALL of his cheese.

            Me? Just leave it the way it is, with the exception of the honey and Sauternes...I want to taste the cheese.

        2. i agree with almost everything cheesemaestro staes with some minor tweaks to my likings.

          - I do not use my fingers for the cheeses, utensils only. just a personal preference
          - I like a little bread since i like the textural differences in the crustiness of the bread and the smoothness of the cheese.

          Love the
          - The cheese first and then a potential combo with a compote is the perfect way to experience the cheese and then the upside
          - couple of sips of water is also SOP

          1. When my husband and I share a plate, my method is to look over his shoulder and say, 'Wow! You should see the girl with the enormous ta tas and low cut top!' When he looks, the Saga Blue is mine!!!