Eight Tips for Surviving the French Cheese Course


SpeakerIconImprove your French: Listen and start learning the French Cheese Vocabulary (opens with QuickTime Player and Windows Media Player).

Private French Cultural Lesson Cheese 3Over 400 different kinds of cheeses are made in France and cheese is a very important part of French culture. Traditionally during a French dinner, cheese is served after the main course and before the dessert. You may notice that restaurants will often offer on the menu a plate of cheese in or just before the dessert section. At dinner parties, a plate may be passed with three or many more cheeses after the plates from main course are cleared.

Here are eight tips to help those of you who are not familiar with this course:

When to serve

As mentioned above, the cheese platter should be served before the dessert. Cheese is not served with drinks before the meal, as is common in Anglophone countries. Warm Brie has started to appear as an appetizer on bistro menus in Paris, but this is a recent import and not how Brie is traditionally served.

Passing the platter

The cheese platter, as with all the other platters, should be passed from the oldest to the youngest female guest, eventually arriving at the hostesses. She will then pass it to the oldest male guest. It will again go around the table by age to the men, arriving lastly with the host. The bread can be passed more casually. When you receive the bread take one piece and place it next to your plate. Green salad with olive oil vinaigrette may be offered with the cheese. It is up to you if you want to eat your salad with or after your cheese.

Private French Cultural Lesson Cheese 2Cutting the cheese

If you are the oldest female guest, you will be passed the plate first and all the perfect uncut cheeses may be intimidating. For round cheeses, cut a small wedge and remove it with the blade of your knife. For wedges of cheese, cut diagonally across the bottom, this is to ensure the last person will not be left with just the rind. Soft cheeses are cut with a butter knife or if they are very runny, can be served with a spoon. Hard cheeses are cut with a paring or slicing knife.

How much to take

You should take slices about as thick as your pinkie finger of no more than three cheeses and you should only serve yourself once.

Where to start

The cheese should be eaten from the one with the weakest flavor to the strongest. You can ask your host or hostess which one to eat first, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, start with youngest looking hard cheese and end with the oldest. If it is runny or smelly, save it for last.

How to eat

You can spread the cheese on bread with your knife or in the case of hard cheeses, eat it with a fork and knife. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for more bread. All cheese rinds are edible, but they usually have the strongest flavor. If the rind seems complicated to remove, particularly in runny cheeses, then eat it. With harder cheeses, particularly one’s with paper on the rind, use your knife to remove it. Everything between, it’s really up to your individual taste.

What else

A cheese platter will normally be accompanied with red wine and as mentioned before, occasionally a green salad of lettuce with homemade vinaigrette.

Private French Cultural Lesson Cheese 1Breaking the rules!

Of course once you know the rules exist, all rules are meant to be broken and the French love nothing more than breaking rules. Someone may pass you the cheese platter a second time while slyly saying you know we’re not supposed to do this or the host may serve himself a giant slice because everyone knows it’s his favorite. You can definitely fight with your friend over who’s younger and should therefore be served last. Just be sure to enjoy what you’re eating and whom you are eating with.

And never say a cheese is stinky, it is just “strong”!


[column col=”1/2″]
Un fromage = cheese

Un yaourt = yogurt

Une entrée = first course or appetizer

Un plat principal = main course

Un dessert = dessert

Un pain = bread

Une salade = lettuce

Un couteau = knife

Une cuillère = spoon

Une fourchette = fork

Un produit laitier = dairy product [/column]

Un fromage fort = stinky cheese

Un plateau de fromage = cheese plate

Un fromage à pâte molle = soft cheese

Déguster = to savor

Apprécier = to like

Fort = strong

Coulant = runny

laitier = dairy

Je suis allergique aux produits laitiers = I am dairy intolerant

Qu’est-ce que c’est comme fromage? = Which cheese is this?


Interested in learning more about French culture and traditions while improving your language skills? Call or contact us here to organize a private French lesson in Paris with a French tutor in Paris.