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Cheese course etiquette

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Seeing as I have at least 2 meals on the horizon that are supposed to have great cheese courses, I need to know more about the etiquette that I should observe. I have had many cheese courses at many nice restaurants but they have all been at restaurants in the United States where the cheeses were already plated so portion control and choice is not an issue.
Is the cheese course typically plated for you in Parisian restaurants or is it more like a take what you want sort of deal? If I prefer a runny Epoisses to a firm goat cheese, is it acceptable to take more from one and less from the other? Do they normally put out a few and explain the progression? From what I have gathered, at Le Comptoir, you are given a large, communal plate of cheese from which you take what you want and pass it on, making sure to not be too greedy. Is that the same sort of deal at Le Grand Vefour, even though I know I would never handle the cheese plate? What about Le Cinq? I just don't want to do something embarrassing by not knowing the proper etiquette, especially at some of the nicer places where it feels like there are 50 sets of eyes watching your every move.
Thanks.

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  1. "Is the cheese course typically plated for you in Parisian restaurants or is it more like a take what you want sort of deal?"

    At le Gran Véfour, actually both. A big communal plate is shown to you, you point to which cheeses you want, the waiter puts the knife on top of the cheese, as though poised to cut a pie, and you show your approval, or indicate you want more, or less.
    I don't remember ever lifting my finger to do anything there. The waiter practically spoon-fed me. :-)
    Perfection of service means you never feel any waiter breathing down your neck, but the second you see that the level of wine on your glass is a little low, the service god reads your thoughts and a mystery hand comes out of nowhere and pours your glass to half full, yes, half full, again.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      I assume the cheeses were discussed prior to making a selection?
      How can I sign up to be spoon fed? That should just be part of the experience!

    2. I'm sure others will be along to add, but here are a few:

      The cheese course is very often plated. Not always, but frequently. Eat as much as you like of whatever you like, and none of whatever you don't.

      For a communal plate, take as much as you like of whatever you like (within reason, of course). If you don't like bleu, for example, you're under no obligation to have any. (swiping the Camembert from the platter and huddling in a corner of the dining room, growling at all who approach would be bad form, by the way) :P

      Under NO circumstance do you EVER cut the point off of a wedge of any cheese -- Brie, camembert, etc -- it's incredibly bad manners. Take your portion of the rind.

      In general, cut shared cheeses in such a way as to keep the shape of the cheese when it arrived in front of you, making sure that you take a fare share of the rind.

      The only exception I can think of is the large hard cheeses like Beaufort and Cantal - for those, you take a slice across the width of the cheese, taking a little of the top and bottom of the rind.

      The rinds are optional, but most people eat the soft rinds (white bloomy cheeses), but many folks (French and not) cut the rind off of very hard cheeses like Cantal.

      14 Replies
      1. re: sunshine842

        "Under NO circumstance do you EVER cut the point off of a wedge of any cheese -- Brie, camembert, etc -- it's incredibly bad manners. Take your portion of the rind."

        Fanastic!! This is exactly the type of information that I knew I would get here.

        I am obviously just fine when someone is doling out my allotted portion or just gives me a plated cheese course, but I have been worried about what I would do with a communal cheese plate.

        1. re: naughtyb

          Remember always cut it like a pie, then you will never "cut the nose off a cheese" as Sunshine so sterly warned against.

          1. re: Parigi

            Even at casual gatherings, someone will usually state "it's okay if you cut the point" to release everyone from the rule -- because it seems like such a small thing, but depending on the company at the table, it's been known to cause an awkward silence.

            To explain for those wondering what we're on about -- the middle of a very good Brie, Camembert, or other soft cheese is very soft and runny (and utterly delicious) -- cutting the point off of the wedge takes the best of the soft runny goodness for yourself, leaving the drier, less-succulent outer sections for everyone else.

            Kind of like digging the fudge ripple out of the fudge-ripple ice cream and sticking the vanilla leftovers back in the freezer (not that that's every happened to me. O.o )

            1. re: sunshine842

              Being from Kentucky, it's not often that I go to social gatherings where anyone would have a very nice cheese plate, much less know the etiquette surrounding the way to slice it.
              Don't get me wrong, we certainly aren't all backwards hillbillies who love Mountain Dew but offending someone by cutting the cheese in an impolite fashion would probably take on a different meaning! ;)
              I do appreciate the information though. It does make a lot of sense. I still may not adhere to this around family considering they won't either but I will not make the mistake of doing that when surrounded by others. Thanks for the enlightenment.

              1. re: sunshine842

                "cutting the point off of the wedge takes the best of the soft runny goodness for yourself"

                Miss Yeti actually prefers the hard edges where the taste is more intense (sometimes even funky). So in my house, if I eat just the soft runny goodness, I will actually be thanked for being thoughtful.
                Isn't life perfect ? ;)

                1. re: Rio Yeti

                  I like shrimp head, which is all intense shrimp taste and no meat, while DH, - actually the rest of the world, - goes for the shrimp meat. My friends also like all the moronic jokes too. Don't even go there.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Yep, works out well for the shrimps as well. I also like the heads: the richest stock on earth.

                    As for the last part, I'll just pretend I didn't hear anything... no no.... NO..... lalalalalalala *shutting my ears with my fingers* lalalalalalaa....

            2. re: naughtyb

              True, you never cut the point off a wedge, but in the case of Brie and other "narrow" wedges you do not cut off a slice that goes all the length of the wedge - given the softness of Brie that would not be manageable.

              What you do with Brie and other narrow wedge cheeses is that you do cut off the point if you are the first guest to attack the wedge, but you do it in a slanted way, so as to get a mini-Brie wedge and to make sure that the larger wedge has kept its shape. The next guest does exactly the same thing but in the opposite direction. Not sure that's clear but in the presence of a wedge of Brie that becomes quite clear.
              As you get closer to the edge of the wedge you still cut slantwise, so that every guest has pretty much the same amount of rind/cream.

              With small round cheeses like camembert and reblochon, just cut regular wedges.

              With hard cheeses like Cantal or Beaufort, the slantwise method also applies, generally prefered to the perpendicular/parallel method (perpendicular/parallel to the rind I mean).

              With very messy cheeses like runny saint-marcellin, just use spoons.

              1. re: Ptipois

                yes -- and I couldn't come up with a graceful way of explaining it....

                (RioYeti -- good that it works out like that! Still hard to pull off gracefully in public, though...friends won't care.)

                1. re: sunshine842

                  St. Marcellin would be a tough one, but I wouldn't want to pass it up.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    When saint-marcellin is properly runny, it runs to the edge of the plate and you have to stop it before it reaches it. Spoons are the best way to do that.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      no worry about the St-Marcellin - it'll be running off the edge of *my* plate. ;)

                      I had a small dish of it a few weeks ago, and a guest visiting from Barcelona ate most of it by herself -- that was okay, too -- I can get more tomorrow, but she can't.

              2. re: sunshine842

                Perfect textbook discussion !

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  THANK YOU! That's all things I've learned along the way -- I appreciate your validation that I was not off-bse.

              3. At Le Cinq, the cheese cart is rolled over to your table. I imagine an explanation is given (we skipped the cheese course, no room) and you choose what and how much you want. It's plated for you. If you're having the lunch prix fixe, there's a supplement for the cheese course.

                1. Very few restaurants still have the "serve yourself" cheese board or basket. Most have a trolley or tray that is bought to the table and served to you by waiter. They will discuss what you like, talk about the cheese , and serve portions. Generally they will "happily" serve about five selections, and they subtle and unsubtle ways of letting you know when enough is enough. an example is that they will place the cheese in a circle on the plate and when they place the "last" piece next to the first piece it is a signal that that is it.

                  As others have said if you get a serve yourself basket then cut the cheese carefully so as not to massacre the board, take sufficient and not too much i.e don't take cheese then not eat it. Sometimes the board is left for you to serve yourself, or sometimes you are served and the board is left for you to help yourself to more.

                  The other minefield is to work out which order to eat the cheese and what to have with it. Some are best with a fruit compote, others come alive with some honey, others are best naked. If the waiter doesn't advise then ask, they will help you eat them in the best order and advise on the best accompaniment - in fact they may plate the cheese in the order it is best to eat it.

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: PhilD

                    "Very few restaurants still have the "serve yourself" cheese board or basket. "

                    2 pop into mind:
                    Chez Casimir
                    Chez Astier

                    1. re: Parigi

                      .....and how long is the list of ones with carts?

                      1. re: Parigi

                        The difference is Casimir gives you product in good shape, Astier is huge and IMHO horrible choices.

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          True. Astier's cheese platter is all about quantity.

                      2. re: PhilD

                        "The other minefield is to work out which order to eat the cheese and what to have with it. Some are best with a fruit compote, others come alive with some honey, others are best naked."

                        Phil,
                        This is something I have come across a multitude of times. It seems the people I have eaten with when this type of board comes out are convinced that the accoutrement closest to a particular cheese is what has been designated to eat with it. Or, perhaps, if the cheese has been set out in a line on one side of the board, the other "stuff" may be in a line on the opposite side of the board, seemingly corresponding to a cheese on the other side.
                        It seems that in most casual type restaurants, the servers have no clue as to what would pair well and I wouldn't bother to have them find out.

                        1. re: naughtyb

                          When in doubt, ask.
                          For example, at chez Casimir, if you ask, the maitre d will tell you the order, and the cheeses have actually been aligned accordingly already.

                          1. re: naughtyb

                            I am not too enthusiastic about the new trend of serving all sorts of stuff like various jams, honeys or jellies with cheeses. Not that it's unpleasant, but it conceals the taste of cheese to me. Nothing beats a good wine pairing, perhaps a small quantity of true Itxassou cherry jam, some fresh grapes or a not-too-vinegary salad. Aside from that, I think cheese should be cheese only.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              I tend to agree, but there are some wonderful pairings, a truffled honey with a good blue is one I am very fond of. And a good quince paste can work well with some sharp sheeps cheese. But most cheese is best eaten as cheese.......but with a great Chardonnay not red.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                I usually never dare to pair a cheese with something sweet. So when a restaurant presents me with that opportunity I usually try it and am more often then not delighted by it.

                                But most of the times, I agree that cheese should be cheese.

                                1. re: Rio Yeti

                                  My Ultimate Cheese Guy on marché d'Anvers turned me on to buckwheat honey - miel de sarrasin - for his valençay. I don't dare pair sweet stuff with cheeses on my own. But in the case of valençay-buckwheat honey, I must say that the odd bitterness of buckwheat honey becomes a very nice coffee-like taste on the chees.

                                  Indeed, with a good cheese, why get a taste distraction?

                                  Pictures of the UC and UCG below:

                                  http://croquecamille.wordpress.com/20...

                                  http://www.paris-update.com/fr/index....

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    Ooh (scribbles notes)

                                    We have a friend (native French) who eats strawberry jam with **every** cheese. When he's over for dinner, I just quietly hand him a jar of my homemade jam and let him wallow in his happiness.

                                  2. re: Rio Yeti

                                    I am more often than not delighted too, but when I think back on it, I remember the sweet stuff, never the cheese. Hence my thought.

                                  3. re: PhilD

                                    When l gave classes l always used sweet wine with stronger cheeses, they rarely get overwhelmed by the cheese and match beautifully. For example a Bonnezeaux with an aged Pouilgny St Pierre is stunning.

                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                      Moelleux and liquoreux, as well as oxidatives, are awesome with cheeses. White wines rule with cheese, so do ports, marsalas, jerez or madeiras; red wines are a no-no IMO with few exceptions.

                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                        I totally agree: with a few exceptions (ripe pear with blue cheese), I want to taste the saltiness of cheese rather than anything sweet with it. Maybe I am an old timer when most restaurants use to serve cheese with just bread, not all the creative pairings that chefs are going through.
                                        My taste on wines, only a a few cheese such as triple creme or an aged Comte/ Parmesan go with red. Any strong cheese just wreck a good red wine. Much better is white with goat cheese (also bloomy and washed rind) and sweet wine with blue.

                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                          Indeed -- one of my favorite "parlor tricks" with cheese was taught to me by my wine merchant back home in Florida -- it's playing with your food, but in the nicest possible way.

                                          1) A sip of Sauternes (or similar moelleux/liquoreux/botrytis-affected sweet white) -- alone

                                          2) A nibble of Roquefort

                                          3) A sip of Sauternes with the Roquefort

                                          4) A nibble of the Roquefort, this time drizzled with a little honey

                                          5) Nirvana - the honeyed Roquefort with a sip of the Sauternes.

                                          You need someone a little adventurous to pull this one off, but it's fun to watch the slight grimace from the Roquefort by itself (much as I love it, it's a little potent!) turn into smiles with the Sauternes, and the eventually eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head when you reach the last stage.

                                          You can only pull it off once, though -- after that, they go headfirst for the honey-Roquefort-Sauternes combination.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            the best combo i've had was stilton, italian wild chestnut honey and walnuts….

                                            i like cheese alone, but i also like to have some fig paste or honey for a touch, with some bites some times. some cheeses are more welcoming to this treatment than others, of course.

                                            thinking of your sauternes, sunshine, bonny doon used to make a fantastic vin de glaciere gewurtztraminer that tasted to me like heavenly essence of pear. fantastic with cheese.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              OK - I blame you. I blame you for my now increasing addiction to a cheese I have never liked before.

                                              My husband also blames you. He blames you for the fact that I no longer allow him exclusive access to the Roquefort we buy.

                                              Roquefort was always way too strong and salty for me, but this combination is amazing and I can now enjoy (a little) Roquefort even without honey, but with Sauternes or Muscat.

                                              We tried it with honey from the Haut Languedoc, and as Roquefort is only a little further north, maybe their almost shared terroir meant that they were perfectly matched. Sauternes is obviously not from that part of France, but it is soooo good with this combination.

                                              1. re: Theresa

                                                I'll take that blame. Glad you like it.

                                                :)

                                2. Restaurants such as Le Cinq and Le Grand Vefour, you won't have to worry about doing any cutting. They will roll the cheese cart over to your table. The cheeses are grouped according to catagories such as: goat cheeses (from very fresh to aged), blues, soft ripen such as epoisses and Vacherin Mont d'Or, wash-rind, aged hard such as Comte, etc. etc. The cart at Le Grand Vefour has more than 30. There is a server whose job is to manage and serve the cheeses. Their usual opening line is a simple explanation of the categories. Like ordering wine, they are more than happy to talk about them. They are very patient and passionate about cheese. You can point and just ask a little of this and small piece of that. You can have as much. In LGV, they will serve your wife first , then your turn. Just relax and enjoy yourself. The staff at LGV and Le Cinq are terrific, formal but with a great sense of humor.
                                  Many simpler restaurant that include a cheese course will usually have a single cheese individual plated. Very few bistrot offer a cheese tray/cart anymore. If they do, they just put a tray on your table for you to take as much as you like. They'll take the tray away when another table needs it.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: PBSF

                                    When l said earlier that LGV has my fav cheese course in Paris, it is more for the reasons above even than for the cheeses picked, which are in perfect conditions well.

                                  2. Hi naughtyb,
                                    Here's a picture of the cheese plate from Chez Casimir, As Parigi mentioned, it's serve yourself, and it's more casual than the places you mentioned. Still, you can see that you must reserve some room :)

                                     
                                    27 Replies
                                    1. re: sistereurope

                                      How many cheeses are you comfortable selecting? Does it depend on the restaurant?

                                      I used to feel comfortable requesting three. One night we discussed it with an English couple at the neighboring table who weren’t sure either. We all kept an eye on the cheese tray as other tables were served. We saw one man order five cheeses. The Englishman turned to me and said, “You can order seven.”

                                      I didn’t but now I’m wondering if I could get away with five. We usually go to restaurants that are generous with their servings, but I don’t want to look greedy. Greedy I may be, I just don’t want to look it.

                                      1. re: Crumbs

                                        Three is being very conservative, five is pretty standard, seven could be pushing it. but it depends on so many factors - as I said upthread you can usually tell when enough is enough. One good way is how they place the cheese on a plate - it is usually in a circle, once it comes back to the beginning it is a strong signal.

                                        1. re: Crumbs

                                          At Le Cinq a few weeks ago, l received, gulp, eleven.
                                          At Chez Casimir last week, the tray had about eight , l took seven.

                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                            Were you given dirty looks by the server or by your table mate after selecting 11 cheeses? I am positive I would have been chastised for drawing attention to us!

                                            1. re: naughtyb

                                              People don' give US dirty looks. WE give THEM dirty looks.
                                              You are welcome to take as many as you want. However, I have been told it is goinfre-like to have second helping of your 3 or 7 or whatever number. (Really not sure of the spelling of goinfre, great word though.)

                                              I myself usually have only 3, but probably because it is I who is less cheese-receptive. After 3, the tastes start blurring, no matter how much red I down in between. I seem to be enjoying less starting with the 4th onward. But my dining companion the cheese locust, - oops, I mean the cheesemonger above - was only hitting his stride starting with the 3rd one.

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                Completely the opposite. some years back, my first visit to LGV was as a solo for a significant birthday. They brought me the cheese cart and the fromagalier (my word) was so thrilled that l really cared, he sat down with me for 20 minutes at my table and got me to try every one on the 20-30 cheese cart and explained everyone while l was munching, whose Ste-Maure it was, why the 18 month comte was better than the 30 on the tray, etc. It was awesome and why l have such a fond spot in my heart for LGV.

                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                  LOL..cheese locust.

                                                2. re: naughtyb

                                                  They wouldn't dream of giving dirty looks to a person who honors their cheese platter as DCM does. They'd rather bring on a second cheese tray just for him.

                                                  1. re: naughtyb

                                                    Top restaurants would never give you a 'dirty' look. They will keep that in and just smile. You can guess what they are thinking inside. If you are taking the lunch prix fixed menu at LGV, there are much more food following the cheese course: your chosen dessert, a piece of gateau de Savoie, petits fours and mignardises, chocolates, offering of dessert wines which sometimes (not always!!!) is on the house.

                                                    1. re: naughtyb

                                                      The other big question. Is it OK for one person to order the cheese, the other the dessert. The cheese person then selects as much as possible in order to share the course to avoid paying for two cheese courses?

                                                      I wonder if this question (for some) may go to the heart of the issue i.e. how many can I get away with if I want to share for the single serve price as cheese courses are usually hefty supplements on many set menus.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Good question.

                                                        1. re: naughtyb

                                                          The topic being cheese course etiquette, I am forced to say that ordering plenty of cheese on your plate in order to share with someone so that you pay only for one cheese service would certainly be doable but, if witnessed, be considered rather bad manners and cheap behavior in a gastronomique.

                                                          Desserts on the other hand are okay to share in cheaper places; I've noticed that when only one person orders dessert out of two guests, the server easily brings two spoons with a smile.

                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                            It certainly does seem that it would be bad manners and cheap, however, maybe only in the instance of taking more than you would normally eat just so that you would be able to share.

                                                            1. re: naughtyb

                                                              Yes, that is precisely what I mean.

                                                              Pigging out on cheese from your own plate and wiping it clean will raise no eyebrows.

                                                              But ordering a lot of it just to share it, after the waiter has loaded your plate, with a person who hasn't ordered any will certainly not be considered graceful (anywhere).

                                                              Though, naturally, no one will notice if you give someone a bite. It's all about proportions.

                                                        2. re: PhilD

                                                          As mentioned before Le Cinq gives it to all if anyone orders it. At Casimir they include it in the prix fixe.

                                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                            I must have missed out on this conversation. You are saying that if I order the cheese course for myself at Le Cinq, they will just give some to my wife as well? Seems odd that they would do that.

                                                            1. re: naughtyb

                                                              Was there @ 10 days ago, told them l wished to replace my dessert with cheese, they said fine and when the cheese course came, they served it to the three people at the table. they did not give me a dessert. In the past they have given frequently the cheese gratis and the dessert as well.

                                                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                Was this a single plate of cheese in the middle holding a selection of cheese, with three serving plates, or did everyone get to select and each receive a plate? Subtle yet important difference. In the former you get a generous serve to share, the latter three portions. Sorry to be pedantic but you understand people will assume the latter and may not be happy. Also wise to say top places with bigger marginsaregenerous, other places less so, we know this, but many don't.

                                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                                  Each person chose off the cart separately.

                                                                2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                  I am pretty sure that in this particular case you can impute that to the excellent service policy at Le Cinq. They do things that are not done anywhere else and they are very special about that, it is a carefully planned house style.

                                                                  So that should not be expected to happen in another restaurant.

                                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                                    While unusual, has happened to me on a variety of occasions at different restos, both Europe and US.

                                                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                      Yes but that's because you have "FEED ME, I'M A CHEESE MONSTER" written all over you. It is by no means a general rule.

                                                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                                                        You saw his tattoo too?

                                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                                          (Shhh I promised not to write about that.)

                                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                                            I was driving lost for his poor directions, then I spotted his license plate.

                                                                    2. re: Ptipois

                                                                      I must agree - Le Cinq and a few other top places are generous - but many are more measured in there serves. I would be concerned if readers thought it was the norm, then were surprised when each person who selected cheese was charged. And yes some places do include a cheese course in their set menu's but again these are exceptions - most charge a supplement (per head).

                                                          2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                            Nevermind.

                                                      2. When I asked for three cheeses at Le Cinq, the waiter gently "encouraged" me to try another two that he reccommended. Given all that goes before and comes after the cheese course at a meal in a place like this, I really couldn't manage any more than five - as it was I was glad of a bit of help from my wife (she's clever enough to just snaffle whatever she wants from my plate).

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: BrianGilligan

                                                          l trade my dessert for cheese whenever l am able.

                                                        2. question: do any of these french places offer a mostarda, honey, nuts? please tell us.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            As a rule, no.
                                                            However, in Provence, I have had cheeses served with honey in several restaurants and ferme-auberges.
                                                            Cheese served with mustard? Mustard?

                                                            1. re: Parigi

                                                              Ah, Parigi, mostarda are Italian fruits done sweet confit style in a bitter mustard oil, makes them less sweet, and of course l have a collection of 11 of the leading kinds. Sometimes they are single fruit, sometimes a melange of many fruits.

                                                              Only seen the mostarda served in Italy, Canada, and US

                                                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                DCM, PBSF:
                                                                Merci pour la lumière. And I thought mustard was served with cheeses in the kind of restaurants where coffee was served with salt. :-)

                                                            2. re: alkapal

                                                              Mostarda not in France. Mostarda di Cremona is occasionally served with cheese in Lombardy. Some restaurants in Paris, a nut bread is served.