Slicing Cheese

Since cheese has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks (along with decorated sugar cookies, bar exams, and lacy dresses), I thought I would also point out of few things about slicing cheese.

Until I spent the summer in France (almost 10 years ago now), I was like most American kids born in the 80’s. My cheese came in flat, plasticky squares, and melted over hot macaroni in a cheesy mess. Anything else came in rubbery cubes on a tray filled with dusty grapes. Then, I went to France. I was 16. And from the moment I landed, I was told by my host lady that “Parson’s nosing” cheese was very “American” of me and then she launched into a lecture on cheese in rapid French. I caught… 1%.

Anyway, the concept of cutting cheese was so ingrained in me by my host AND my French language teacher (who gave an entire 2 hour lecture on the proper way to purchase, present, slice, and eat cheese). So here I am, ten years later, thinking about how I should explain this to other people too, since I did just post about cheese.

We can get all crazy and discuss types of knives, types of cheese boards, presentation skills, the order cheeses should be presented, and other details that I was very firmly told to do. But, I think that food should be enjoyed, and fretting over small details that make very little difference in taste is not always best.

However, the French DO know cheese, and typically French etiquette on slicing cheese properly also preserves flavor, integrity and enjoyment of cheese. Which is why I find it important to know proper slicing.

Typically, you should keep 4 things in mind.

  1. Serve cheese at room temperature and uncut, as cut pieces of cheese dry and lose flavor quickly
  2. Serve cheeses in order of pungency from least to most
  3. Use  a separate knife for each type of cheese
  4. Slice cheese according to type and shape*

*While slicing cheese in a specific manner is etiquette, it does preserve the integrity of the cheese and the flavors. By slicing in the specified manner,  cheese is consumed in even quantities of rind and cheese… textures and flavors in cheese are different from rind to center, hence the reason to slice in specific ways so that each consumer gets to sample the center and outer portions of cheese in a serving.

Cutting Cheeses for Dummies had a good explanation… I’ve posted it below with the chart.

  • Small wheels, discs, pyramids, or squares: Positioning the knife in the center of the cheese, cut into even, wedge-like slices (image A).
  • Wedges of soft to semi-soft cheeses: Cut these cheeses into thin slices, starting at the point of the cheese (Image B).
  • Wedges of semi-firm to hard cheeses: Cut the wedge in half lengthwise and then cut each slice into portions crosswise (Image C).
  • Logs: Slice into even cross-sections (Image D).
  • Blue cheeses: Slice the wedge from the center of the thin edge to equally spaced points along the thick edge (Image E).
  • Cheeses that come in a box (such as Epoisses): Cut a “lid” in the top of the cheese, and set this piece aside. Then scoop out the contents with a spoon (Image F).
    Cutting different styles and shapes of cheese.

More information and specifics on cheeses can be found at this blog: A French Education. Clickity click!!

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