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The French cheese board—or heaven as it is sometimes called—is the perfect way to end a wonderful meal for cheese lovers around the world. Or, served with wine and crusty bread, it can be a light meal on its own. When paired with a wonderful sparkling rosé or an Alsatian white, it becomes an unmatched delight for the palate, even more if you are enjoying your vino with a view.
Love cheese? Creating a board that is balanced visually and in terms of colors, flavors and textures is a skill that is easy to learn and always useful (and also guarantees many a dinner invitation!).
Traditionally, in France, a selection of sumptuous cheeses is typically presented after the main course in place of dessert. Love cheese? Creating a board that is balanced visually and in terms of colors, flavors and textures is a skill that is easy to learn and always useful (and also guarantees many a dinner invitation!).
Duque offers the following tips for creating a French cheese board with style, like you are in France. And with fall and the holidays soon upon us, it’s time to savor this creamy treat called cheese. (By the way, these cheeses are both elegant and somewhat simple to locate at your local gourmet grocer.)
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It’s all about the numbers. Duque likes the power of uneven numbers. He insists on using three, five or seven cheeses in his presentations.
FOLLOW THE CLOCK
Position your French cheese on the board and think of them as a clock. Start from the mildest and work your way up to the most intricate (i.e., pungent).
IT’S ALL ABOUT STYLE
Select your cheeses from one of each of the major styles: soft-ripened (triple crème, Camembert or brie), hard or semi-hard (Mimolette, Emmental, Comté); washed-rind (Epoisses, Livarot, Munster), and a pungent bleu (Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu d’Auvergne, Roquefort).
Cheeses deserve worthy companions, both alongside and for serving. For a truly French experience, try the Laguiole knives with their signature bee. These elegant stainless steel, wood-handled Laguiole knives come from the Massif Central region of France—specifically the “knife city” of Thiers, where 70 percent of French cutting tool production comes from.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Baguette or cracker? Hand-to-mouth? It’s totally up to you. Duque suggests that the baguette or cracker be neutral. Do not put a delicate French cheese on something so savory that it will mask the flavor of the cheese. Keep the crackers light and crisp; the baguettes should be sliced thin. You want to taste the cheese, not the bread. Spreading butter on a cracker or baguette slice attenuates the saltiness and tanginess of blue cheeses. Adding a drop of honey changes the entire mouth feel.
ADD A BIT OF THE SWEET STUFF
Finally, a little bit of sweetness to balance it all out is always a good addition, especially if you are going the French cheese route and serving them après le diner. Instead of the usual fruit and nut, splurge on a beautiful Quince paste with a zing: Basque espelette pepper.
Duque notes with good reason, “If you start with the strongest cheese, you will not be able to taste the more delicate cheeses.”
If you start with the strongest cheese, you will not be able to taste the more delicate cheeses.
With small, scattered holes called “eyes,” Comté has an intriguing, complex flavor that can include hints of apricot, chocolate, butter, cream, hazelnuts and toast. Enjoy Comté in cubes, on a sandwich, melted in fondue, or grated and sprinkled on your favorite dishes. Any way you like it, serve Comté with a dry white or light red wine.
One of the mildest blue cheeses, Fourme d’Ambert is creamy with a delicate, fruity flavor, making it an ideal addition to salads or simply with bread or pear slices. Enjoy Fourme d’Ambert with fruity red or sweet dessert wines.
The classic blue cheese is sharp and delightfully pungent with a slightly crumbly texture. A
great addition for those who want a true bleu.
Looking for some additional French cheese board stars? We’ve got you covered with these five cheeses high on personality.
SOFT CHEESE: BRILLAT SAVARIN
Duque recommends a cow’s milk cheese, like Brillat Savarin from Burgundy. Creamy, buttery and decadent, it can be dressed up both savory and sweet. Think truffle shavings, tapenade or fig compote.
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With its strong aroma and deep orange exterior, you might expect Époisses to have a bold flavor. Instead, you’ll find smooth and silky cheese with a unique, slightly salty taste. Spread on raisin bread or gingerbread, Époisses is perfect with a sweet white wine at the end of a meal.
With a pungent, earthy aroma, Livarot is hard to ignore. Its full, spicy flavor can also include a tongue-biting tanginess. Spread on crusty bread or as a dessert with apples, grapes and pears, Livarot goes well with a medium-bodied white wine, hard cider, or apple brandy.
The sharp, nutty, fruity taste of the French cheese Mimolette also includes sweet hints of butterscotch. Its brilliant orange color makes it the focus of any cheese platter. Try Mimolette with a rustic red wine or ale.
WASHED-RIND: PONT L’EVEQUE
Pont L’Eveque has buttery and savory flavors, with tangy hints of tangy fruit. It’s equally enjoyed with Champagne or a post meal apple brandy or Hard Norman cider.
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Using different textures and colors makes for a visually interesting board. France alone has more than 1,200 cheeses, so it is easy to find cheeses that will please your palate and that of your friends and family. You want to organize your board so that cheeses are arranged from mildest to strongest. For example, starting with a creamy soft-ripened bloomy-rind like Camembert, Brie or Triple Crème, then a harder cheese like Comté or Mimolette, a washed-rind like Langres or Epoisses, and finish off the board with a blue such as Bleu d’Auvergne or Fourme d’Ambert. Add seasonal fresh or dried fruits, nuts, charcuterie, crackers, jams and chutneys to allow for experimenting.
Some people find bleus too pungent, but if they drizzle a bit of honey, it changes the entire experience. Do not forget that the board itself—wood, marble, stone or slate—it’s part of the presentation. Dark colored boards make the cheese stand out. Pre-cut into the cheese and place a knife per cheese to avoid flavor transfer or blue mold on your triple crème!
· Use an odd number of cheeses 3, 5, 7
· Mix colors and textures—creamy, soft-ripened, hard cheeses, washed-rinds and bleus.
· A beautiful wood or slate board makes for a beautiful cheese board.
· Add fresh & dried fruits, nuts, crackers, honey, jams, olives and charcuterie paying attention to beautiful colors.