How to Eat a Fine Cheese

No one needs to tell you how to eat. You learned that long ago. But to enjoy to the maximum a gourmet cheese, there are some small bits of wisdom that can prove useful.

Some cheese connoisseurs are purists, a valid stance. They will enjoy a piece of cheese only when it is served isolated, and as an appetizer or (in the European fashion) after the main course. But never in conjunction with another food. For such people, a wedge or chunk is a delicacy to be savored in all its uniqueness. To each his own.

For others, a slice or spread goes well on a fine cracker or small piece of walnut bread. To them, a cheese is - though perhaps not a mere adjunct - something to be enjoyed as part of a wider creation. They will even mix their cheeses, trying different combinations of English cheddar, or even declaring a union between an Emmental and a Parmesan. Fair enough, it's a free country.

Some adventurous souls will insist that a cheese is meant to be enjoyed with a full partner, such as an excellent piece of fruit or delectable nuts. Fuji apples, Bosc pears or Italian grapes together with a Taleggio make for a meal all its own. Or, perhaps a Danish blue atop a Brioche with some pistachios is your idea of radical eclecticism. So be it.

Few would be so extreme as to chew the rind of a Stilton. But the rind of a Reblochon may be an adjunct to the cheese interior. There may be rules about such things, but rules are sometimes best broken. Trim or taste as your personal preference dictates.

But whatever your style, keep in mind that the end goal is to enjoy the experience.

Serving cheese at room temperature will bring out the full flavor, but don't let the cheese sit too long. Bacteria is used to create it, but bacteria (or mold) from the air after it's given form will spoil the taste. Slice, chop or grate only after removal from the refrigerator.

Avoid overpowering the cheese. An olive is a delight and almonds are tasty additions, but an extra sharp cheddar should not come before a mild Brie de Meaux. Limburger is a valid choice, but having it before the Camembert from Normandie is unlikely to lead to gourmet groans of pleasure. Try the pungent Roquefort only after, not before, the piquant Bleu de Bresse.

Proceed from mild to sharp, soft to hard in order to enjoy to the fullest a range of cheese offerings.

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