When French friends invite me to parties, I instinctively ask "What should I bring?" and brace myself. Baguette? No problem. Wine? I defer to the good people at En Vrac (with great success, I might add). Cheese, on the other hand, poses an arrestingly terrifying conundrum. French people live and die for les fromages- literally, a percentage of elderly persons and pregnant women die each year from cheese-related illness- and this time last summer, the only brie I'd ever had was on a hamburger. Eventually, I stopped thinking my friends were out to get me- although I can't dwell on this subject too long, because really, who throws a party for French people and asks the only American to bring cheese? I asked- nay, begged- four fromagers (from La Grande Epicerie, La Fromagerie, Eric Lefèbvre, and Laurent Dubois) to teach me the fine art of composing a perfect cheeseboard.
Composing the Perfect Cheese Plate
001. The amount
Plan on 20-30g per person for dessert; 125g per person if serving as a meal. For Americans, 1-2 ounces up to 4-6 ounces is sufficient. Pictured above is a cheeseboard for four persons.
002. The categories
Chèvres: Goat's cheeses. I always ask for une chèvre très, très frais.
Pâtes molles à croûte fleurie: Soft, ripened cheeses
Pâtes pressées cuites et non cuites: Hard and semi-soft cheeses
Pâtes molles à croûte lavée: Soft, ripened, washed-rind cheeses
Pâtes persillées: Blue cheeses (omit this category for gluten-free). Impress your fromager by asking for something très salée.
003. The presentation
If serving as a meal, arrange consecutive plates consisting of 3-5 cheeses from each category, according to the order outlined above. For dessert, arrange cheeses in an organized fashion on a board or platter with accompaniments.
The height of chic, I'm told, is a cheese board from Griffon, but I find the logo tacky and flip ours over when entertaining guests. I've found St. Felicien double creme makes people crazy with its' indescribable richness; the simpler your cheese board, the better, and most hostesses adorn a cheese course with nothing but fine bread. In fact, I've seen grapes on only one platter, and it was the table of a British hostess, at that! Similarly, a proper cheese knife is totally unnecessary, despite any charm it adds to after-dinner niceties.
This helpful infographic from Cookening (I met one of the co-founders at a party once; he's brilliant and has awesome taste in music) is the most comprehensive guide for serving French cheeses I've seen to date. Bonne dégustation!