‘Cutting the Cheese’ and More French Etiquette
The Barefoot Blogger stumbles her way through France with little knowledge of the country or the language. That’s why I’m so excited that Nancy McGee, a gourmet guru, will be adding some culture to my blog, starting off with “Cheese Etiquette.”
Nancy and I met during my first visit to Sete, France through AIRBNB. She hosts guests to stay in her fabulous apartment right on the waterway. We became instant friends.
On the many trips I’ve made to Sete, it has been to attend various functions with Nancy and her friends. A Canadian who has lived in France for the last 30 years, Nancy is in literally in the middle of everything in Sete. In fact, it’s her business. She is the founder of Absolutely Southern France, a unique tourist company that specializes in offering travellers to the south of France one-of-a-kind experiences including her gourmet walking tour of Sète . Rick Steves and TripAdvisor rank her tours a top attraction!
Now that Nancy has agreed to author occasional posts for the Barefoot Blogger, you and I can take advantage of her knowledge of French cuisine, destinations and food etiquette. To find out more about Nancy and Absolutely Southern France, check out her page on Barefoot Blogger.
Now, let’s learn about ‘Cutting the Cheese’ – French style.
Cheese Etiquette – Roquefort – by Nancy McGee
Shortly after I arrived in France, I was invited as guest of honor at a dinner party for eight. I was flattered but also somewhat apprehensive as to the correct protocol. And so I dusted off my French etiquette book, which suggested simply following what the host does. It made perfect sense and worked well – up to a point, that is! Imagine my horror when I was the first to be invited to serve myself from the cheese platter. A selection of cheeses in all shapes and sizes, some familiar, others perfect strangers confronted me.
Sitting imperiously in the centre of the platter the famed Roquefort and it had the air of just waiting for me to commit an error! . Numerous questions presented themselves: should I cut a piece from just one cheese or from several – and what size? In an effort to be fair I tried mentally dividing the cheeses into equal parts for the seven other guests – who by this time were wondering if I would ever pass the platter around!
Now, after over 30 years in France and any number of dinner parties, this is what I recommend when confronted with a similar dilemma: Take what you can! That platter may not come back to you and even if it does your favorite cheese might be gone. So go for it first time around! There is only one totally unacceptable error, and that is to take an entire piece of cheese. One other useful tip: if you are the host you should serve yourself last.
That is not quite the end of your troubles, however. Let us return to the Roquefort – the ‘cheese of kings and popes’ and a reputed favourite of Emperor Charlemagne. No self-respecting cheese platter in France would be without it but beware – it demands respect and is full of hazards for the unwary! Oh la la…
First a word about Roquefort. This creamy white cheese is made with sheep’s milk and injected with mould from rye bread to produce blue veins. It is then rolled in coarse salt and stored in caves in the village of Roquefort for three months. Roquefort is located at the base of a cliff that shifted long ago to create crevasses, which the cheesemakers now use as cellars . Temperatures in the cellars year round are between 8 to 10 degrees and 80 percent humidity provide the perfect conditions for producing the cheese.
Now back to the business of helping yourself to Roquefort cheese and how to avoid the two most common faux pas.
First, never serve yourself the creamy blue edge in the middle. That would be considered really bad manners, since it is the best part. (I don’t know if this is true, but my cheese merchant told me that men are the worst offenders!)
The second mistake is to cut a piece from top to bottom vertically – it isn’t fair to other guests! The person after you will get the outer slice with the mostly salty crust, while the person with the slice in the middle will have the best creamy part with the tasty mould. The proper way to cut Roquefort cheese is from the center outwards toward the rind (i.e in the shape of a triangle),
Roquefort is just an hour’s drive from Montpellier and Sète and all the Roquefort cheese in the entire world comes from this tiny village. Once there were 30 producers and today there are just 7.
For a personal cheese étiquette experience, join Nancy on a Gourmet Walking Tour of Sète or Montpellier.
As seen in France Today