Creating the Ultimate French Cheese Board
While a well-designed French cheese board can be the perfect appetizer for any dinner party, or for me personally, it’s the perfect meal. On our last trip to Paris, upon arrival, my husband and I dropped our bags at our hotel, and immediately ventured out for a heavenly afternoon gorging on French cheese and warm, crusty, French bread. I love cheese and consider its caloric content reason enough to question god’s existence.
The French take cheese very seriously and have the highest cheese consumption in the world, about 57 pounds per person, per year. Hint: they are not just eating cheese at parties. In fact, the French will eat cheese any time of day, including after dinner as dessert. So, whether you are creating a platter for a lunch, a dessert, or a party, here’s everything you need to know to create the ultimate French cheese board.
A Brief History of French Cheese
From the 1300’s until the 1850’s, women were almost exclusively the cheesemakers of France! Peasant women created regional recipes and sold their cheeses at local markets. For centuries they kept this custom going by passing the recipes down to their daughters. As science progressed and factories increased, women began to lose control of their recipes and more men started to take over as cheese making became big business.
Traditional regional recipes still remain strong, and many cheeses are protected by the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) which certifies agricultural products are produced in their designation of origin. Roquefort was the first cheese to obtain this distinction in 1925. Similarly, this is the same regulating system that stipulates that champagne may only be called champagne if it is indeed from Champagne, France. Every region in France produces a variety of cheeses with Normandy being the largest producer.
Types of French Cheeses
If you think a French Cheese board would be incomplete without Brie, think again! While I do swoon over a perfectly ripe brie, there are between 1,200-1,600 distinct types of French cheeses depending on who you talk to. The French categorize them into eight families of cheese. Some of them are only available in France, and most you can find in Paris cheese shops. So when I’m there, I always bring some home—cheese makes a great souvenir from Paris!
|Cheese Family||Characteristics||Popular Cheeses|
|Soft Cheeses with A Bloomy Rind (Natural Rind)||• Cow’s milk • Soft Cheese • Natural white fluffy rind • Aged one month||Camembert, Brie, Delice de Bourgogne, Brillat Savarin and Neufchâtel|
|Soft Cheeses with A Washed Rind||• Cow’s milk • Soft Cheese • Moist orange rind • Strong odor||Pont-l’Évêque, Maroilles, Mont-d’Or, Muenster, Livarot. Epoisses|
|Pressed Cheeses||• Cow’s or ewe’s milk • Semi-hard or semi-soft • Thick hard rind • Aged for several months||Tomme de Savoie, Cantal, Morbier, St. Nectaire, Port Salut, Ossau-Iraty|
|Cooked Pressed Cheeses||• Cow’s milk • Hard cheese||Comté, Beaufort, Emmental, Mimolette|
|Blue Cheeses||• Cow’s or sheep’s milk • Blue mold “veins” • Aged approximately 2 mo.||Roquefort, Bleu de Bresse, Saint Agur, Bleu des Causses, Fourme d'Ambert, Bleu d’Auvergne|
|Goat Cheeses||• Goat’s milk Soft Aged two to six weeks||Chevrotin, Chavignol, Pélardon, Rocamadour, Chabichou du Poitou, Rocamadour, Crottin de Chavignol, Fleur du Maquis, Rocamadour, Sainte-Maure Caprifeuille, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Soignon|
|Fresh Cheeses||• Cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk Creamy texture Not aged High water content||Jonchée d’Aunis, Brousse Provençale Petit Suisse, Brousse|
|Processed Cheeses||• These cheeses are produced by melting cheeses or a mixture of cheeses.||Gruyère cream, processed cheeses with nuts, Boursin|
Creating the Ultimate French Cheese Board
French Cheese Selection
Whether constructing a cheese board or a cheese plater, do not feel compelled to include all eight families! So, how do you choose which ones to incorporate? First, decide on a quantity; I recommend 3 to 5 depending on the number of people sharing it, and if anything else will be served with it. Ideally, select a variety of different textures, flavors, colors, shapes, and firmness, and don’t include anything you personally don’t like. Here are some of the best French cheeses to make your cheese board a hands down hit:
Epoisses: A true classic from the Burgundy region. The super creamy inside boarders on runny, and has a powerful combination of sweet and tangy flavors. The gasses that escape the orange washed rind can have a slightly pungent or “stinky” odor.
Delice de Bourgogne: Think of this cheese as Brie on steroids. It’s a triple cream bloomy rind cheese with 75% fat and a silky texture that melts in your mouth.
Ossau Iraty: Fabled to originate from a Greek god’s follies, this sheep’s milk cheese has a 3,000-year-old history from the Pyrenees region in Southern France. The semi-firm pressed cheese has a mild taste of nuts and toasted wheat.
Comté: France’s answer to Gruyer has a similar mild brown butter flavor and semi-hard texture. It is often used for melting, especially in fodue. It’s no wonder Comté is considered one of the world’s best cheeses.
Mimolette: This fabulous bright orange hard cheese from the area around Lille gets its color naturally from annatto. With notes of caramel and nuts, Mimolette is a great way to add color to your cheese board.
Morbier: Easily identifiable by the layer of tasteless ash running through its center, this semi-soft cheese reigns from the Franche-Comté region. It is rich and creamy with hints of fruit, hay, and nuts.
Roquefort: The quintessential French blue is crafted from sheep’s milk. It crumbles easily and delivers a rich, spicy tang. Fun fact: Roquefort first shows up in history in 79 AD in the writings of Pliny the Elder.
St. Agur: A wonderfully creamy blue cheese from the mountains of Auvergne. The rich buttery taste and texture will please even the blue cheese timid.
Chabichou du Poitou: This mildly sweet goat cheese in the shape of a small cylinder can add a touch of cuteness to your platter.
Sainte-Maure de Touraine: A log-shaped goat cheese covered in vegetable ash from the Loire region.
Choose a few complimentary items that will look pretty and enhance the flavors of your selected cheeses. Sweet condiments like honey or jams, and dried or fresh fruit usually pair well with most cheeses as do most nuts. Or, if you want something more like a full meal, you can include olives, marinated artichokes, and roasted peppers. A few of my personal favorites:
Maple Bacon Onion Jam: It is especially delicious on a wedge of Ossau Iraty or Comté.
Sliced pears and apples: I like to have these as an option to bread or crackers.
Roasted or Candied Pecans: Most nuts will work well, so if you prefer almonds, or another nut, use those.
Charcuterie: If the cheese board is not for a meal, I tend to use just one type of charcuterie on my platters. I am all about the cheese after all! Prosciutto or salami are my 2 favorites, and if you really want to use both, go for it! If it is for a meal, with my husband, the more the better!
Cheese boards are typically made from wood, slate, bamboo, or marble and vary greatly in size. Cutting boards and pastry boards make great cheese boards too! For the perfect cheese board presentation, make sure your board is large enough for everything you want to have on it. Check out these fabulous cheese board options from Amazon:
Cheese Board Presentation Tips
Now that you have everything you need for your French cheese board, it’s time to create a beautifully appetizing presentation. Some things to keep in mind:
Temperature: Cheese is best enjoyed at room temperature, so make your platter about an hour ahead.
Quantity: The cheese board should be full, but not overflowing. Don’t feel compelled to use all of your cheese. Each portion of the cheeses you choose should be approximately the same portion size.
Placement: Map out your design before putting the cheese down on the board; it will save you time and messy clean up. Start with the cheese first and fill in with your accompaniments and bread/crackers. If you are using 5 cheeses and a rectangle, try putting one cheese in each corner and the most interesting or colorful cheese in the center.
Cutting: You don’t want your cheese flinging across the room (I actually had this happen in a restaurant). Slice the hard and semi-hard cheeses and serve with a tiny fork. From my catering experience I also know people are much more likely to take a slice of hard cheese than to cut their own.
Utensils: Have a cheese knife for each cheese that is not precut.
Bread or crackers: Stack crackers to save space, place them staggered along the sides, or between the cheeses. If you cannot fit the bread or cheese on the platter, it is ok to have a separate, plate, bowl, or basket.
Filling in the space: Use small bowls with little spoons for jams and honey. Make piles or scatter dried fruits and nuts. If you feel like you have too much extra space, you can fill in some more with fresh herbs or edible flowers.
Save it for later! Click it to Pin it!