The savvy Francophile’s guide to fromage: French cheese expertise

guide to fromage - french cheese

Creating the perfect French cheese board can be a challenge: it can be tempting to play it safe, but it’s rewarding to go beyond the cliché, and choose the French cheese that’s just a little bit more uncommon…

Yes, we all love Brie – or if not all of us, most – but when you’re looking to French-ify your life, embracing the cheesey culture can be a lot of fun.

If you’re planning a dinner party with some fellow Francophiles, stocking a cheese plate with traditional, artisanal and diverse French cheeses is a great way to feel really French.

But what to choose? Well, we’ve taken the trouble out of the process. We have tips on selecting cheeses, storing them and knowing when each cheese is perfectly ripe. You’ll have the perfect French cheese board in no time…

selecting french cheese -

It is imperative that the cheeses on your cheese board complement each other: there’s nothing worse than having dull flavours boring your palate.

It is best to restrict your cheese board to only four or five cheeses, and try and offer a good mix – some hard cheeses, some soft, some made from goat’s milk, and others from cow, or ewe milk.

It is also important to offer different flavours – not everyone is going to like the strong taste of blue cheeses, and so it is important to offer something for everyone.

The French traditionally will serve a cheese board with bread instead of crackers, and before dessert instead of after, so if you’re looking to be truly traditional, these small details – as well as some French table manners – will really French-ify your dinner. Oh, and of course – don’t forget to cut the cheese correctly.

I Love Cheese has a great article on building an interesting cheese board, as it suggests interesting accompaniments, as well as great guidance on how much cheese to provide per person.

storing french cheese - fromage

As with most cheeses, French cheese is best kept in the fridge, even if much of it should be served at room temperature. This takes a little bit of forward planning – if you have the cheese out of the fridge for too long before serving, soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert will melt and ooze away, while others will sweat oil and take on a strong odour.

Ideally, cheese should sit for 30 minutes to an hour before being served – if it is too cold, it will lose a lot of flavour, and taste bland.

Île de France cheese offers great advice on how to store different types of cheeses, for example suggesting that blue cheese is kept in a container as well as wrapped, to prevent the smell affecting other foods.

It also stresses that pressed cheeses, such as Cantal, should be wrapped in wax or parchment paper before being wrapped again in foil or cling film. This will prevent these hard cheeses from losing any more moisture; already dry, they can quickly lose their appeal if they get any dryer…

checking french cheese is ripe

Cheese ripens from the outside in, so finding the optimum time to taste it can be difficult – too soon and the inside will be under-ripe, too late and the outside will be over-ripe.

Luckily, The Kitchn has some great advice. For soft cheeses, touching the rind will give you a good clue as to how ripe the cheese is – it shouldn’t be too soft, and nothing should ooze through the rind from inside when you gently press it.

Hard cheeses ripen much slower, and so they are generally sold when they are at their optimum ripeness, meaning we don’t need to worry too much about when they are served.

However, due to the slow pace of their ripening, there is often a difference in taste between the outside of the cheese and the inside. The further into the cheese you get, the more flavour it will have – towards the outside can be over-ripe, will have lost moisture, and therefore will not taste as good.

This should be considered if you’re using hard cheese in a recipe – the cheese closest to the rind will often be harder and a different colour, in which case you should avoid it.

Do you have any advice on building the ideal cheese board? Which are your favourite French cheeses to include?

Read more on becoming a savvy cheese connoisseur…
1. Soft French cheese
2. Hard French cheese
4. French cheese resources

Image credits:
1. Chèvre by Véronique Pagnier, via Wikimedia.
2. Plateau des fromages, by Monica Arellano-Ongpin, via Flickr.
3. Morbier fromage by Michael Korcuska, via Wikimedia.
3. Cheese circular, via Pixabay.
4. French cheese by Context Travel, via Flickr.

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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  1. Elise Mellor Sep 4, 2014 at 10:21 AM - Reply

    Thanks for this article, Judy!
    I have a question though: obviously some cheeses have mould on them and there are a few sorts of mould that cheeses can have… but how can you tell if it’s bad mould?! Especially on blue cheese.
    Is it okay to eat a hard/semi hard cheese that has a little bit of mould on it? What if you cut the mouldy bit off?
    I hate the idea of cheese going to waste (also to waist…!) but fortunately for me it rarely lasts that long in my fridge 😉

    • Christina Guzman Sep 4, 2014 at 10:41 AM - Reply

      eewwww just don’t get blue cheese – hehehe I joke, i don’t like blue cheese so I’m a bit bias. Moulds on brie and camembert are apparently fine to eat however I wouldn’t just in case ;). Mould generally can’t penetrate far into hard and semisoft cheeses, such as cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss. So you can cut away the mouldy part and eat the rest of the cheese. But keep the knife out of the mould so it doesn’t contaminate other parts of the cheese.
      Here’s a link to how to tell when blue cheese is bad:

  2. Ellen Burns Sep 5, 2014 at 9:21 PM - Reply

    Yummmmmmmmomnom. I love this series!!
    I think the problem I have is the bit that says “it’s best to restrict your cheese board to only four or five cheeses”. 😛
    And I know that letting cheese sit gives it a much better taste and texture…but usually it’s less then 2 minutes between the fridge and my stomach. 😉

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