Assiette de Fromage - Cheese Plate

I firmly believe that if you are interested in/open to trying cheese, coming to France and tasting some of their 460-odd varieties of cheeses will change your entire perspective on this dairy product. 

Cheese is so highly valued in France that it usually reserves its own course, squeezed in between the plat (main course) and the dessert.  Although the wide variety of cheese available in this country can be overwhelming, I have managed to pick a few favorites which I'd like to share with you. 

Ossau Iraty - this sheep's milk cheese, coming specifically from a female sheep called brebis in french, is a firm, almost nutty cheese which can vary in color from bright yellow to ashy gray.  It's great on its own, in sandwiches, or served in little cubes as a starter for a dinner party.

Mimolette Vieille - Mimolette is a firm French cheese from cow's milk which is produced in the Lille region of France (north), which most closely resembles cheddar in both color and taste.  However mimolette vieille and extra vieille, which have been aged for between 1-2 years, tastes more strongly and richly than any cheddar I've tasted, and are wonderful eaten alone, melted in sandwiches or in yummy scones and other savory pastries.

Saint-Marcellin - this soft cow's cheese is an indulgent delight which thankfully comes in a rather small disk, so don't worry if you eat the whole thing, it's not all that large!  This tastes fantastic with crusty bread, but is also nice when served with a warm berry compote or another sweet sauce. There is a similar cheese to this one, Saint Félicien, which comes in an equally adorable size and is slightly milder. 

Aside from these cheeses, some other popular ones that I like are comté, another firm cows cheese, and crottin de chavignol, which is a soft, fresh round of goat cheese.  While the crottin de chavignol comes in a small individual size, the comté is sold in wedges, because it comes from a much larger cheese wheel.

On that note, I'd like to provide you with some tips on how to eat cheese, both individually and on a cheese plate.  This is of course a very preliminary list but I hope it will help you get the most out of your cheese-tasting experience. 

1.  Organize Cheese Plates from Mildest to Strongest.  When making a cheese plate, it's usually best to start with a mild cheese, such as a goat cheese, and move on gradually (in clockwise fashion) to the stronger cheeses, such as roquefort and blue cheese.  You could also move along from type of animal, such as from goat's to sheep's to cow's milk cheeses. 

2.  Cut your cheese properly - don't cheat your neighbor! When it comes to cheese rounds, such as goat cheese and saint marcellin, the cheeses should be cut into even-sized wedges, and this is fairly straightfoward.  When cutting and preparing firm cheeses that have been cut from much larger rounds, such as tomme de brebis or comte, it's best to cut along the wedge, from the outer edge to the tip, so that everyone eats the same parts of the cheese.  Let's look at this picture here as an example:

(Photo courtesy of
The best thing would be to take a sharp knife and place it parallel to the cheese, from the outside towards the center.  Cut off as thick of a slice as you'd like to serve.  The last thing anyone wants is for the tip of the cheese, which is the softest and moistest part, to be given to one person!  However, if it's just you eating it,  you can do whatever you'd like.

3.  Add Accompaniments. Traditional items include jams, marmalades, compotes, sundried and regular tomatoes (when in season), olives, herbs, cured meats, fruits (especially grapes), bread, crackers, and chips.  However, like I said earlier, anything is good, as long as it tastes good to you!

4.  Pair with wine.  Or champagne, go crazy!! Nothing is more fun than doing a little research and seeing what types of wine will go best with the cheeses you've selected.  I absolutely wish I could get into what wines are best with what cheese but I am certain that I don't know enough on the subject, and I think it's best to ask your cheese vendor or your local wine expert what they think.

Most importantly, enjoy the different aromas, tastes, and sensations that come along with eating cheese.  It is a versatile product and which can bring endless amount of happiness and comfort.

A Votre Santé!


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