The French are renowned for their love of cheese and their mastery of cheese-making. Besides using cheese for cooking, the French have a custom of serving an assortment of cheeses with bread after dinner, known as a cheese course. In this article, I will share with you why a cheese course is not only delicious and nutritious but will help you make an easy and satisfying meal without requiring any cooking. In the end, I'll provide some tips on how to store cheese to keep it fresh and last longer, as well as some easy meal ideas.
Types of Cheese
Certain varieties of cheese are best for serving your cheese course versus cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, or Swiss, which are better for cooking. Here are some excellent after-dinner cheeses that are family-friendly and where to find them.
Made from cow’s milk. Soft and creamy, similar to Brie, but with a more intense flavor.
Made from sheep’s milk. A hard cheese with a slightly creamy texture and nutty flavor.
Made from cow’s milk. A hard cheese similar to gruyere cheese with a mild, yet complex, flavor. The undertones are fruity and nutty with a hint of sweetness.
Tomme de Savoie
Made from cow’s milk. A mild-tasting semi-soft cheese with nutty and buttery undertones.
Made from cow’s milk. Cantal has a strong and buttery taste. It is a hard cheese and is often compared to cheddar.
Made from cow’s milk. A bleu cheese with a strong taste, but less intense, creamier, and more complex than Roquefort bleu cheese.
Made from cow’s milk. A semi-soft, very mild bleu cheese with buttery and tangy undertones
Made from cow’s milk. This cheese has a very intense and pungent smell and taste. It is very creamy and buttery and almost melts when it is ripe. Because it is so creamy, store it in the container and serve from the container as well.
Italian Boschetto al Tartufo Stagionato
Made from sheep’s milk and cow’s milk. A semi-soft cheese made with white truffles. This cheese has a unique and delightful taste that is difficult to describe but easy to fall in love with.
Fromager d’Affinois Brebicet
Made from sheep’s milk. A mild creamy cheese similar to brie with a more complex flavor.
Shopping for Cheese
The quality of the cheese is essential when choosing one for your cheese course. Here are some places you can find excellent quality cheese.
A specialty cheese shop offers a wider variety of cheeses than a regular grocery store, and the cheese is made with high-quality milk and traditional artisanal methods. Shop owners will enjoy answering questions and sharing suggestions, and you can talk to a cheesemonger- a person who specializes in selling cheese. They have extensive knowledge about different types of cheese, including their flavors, textures, and origins. They can make recommendations and offer you a sample to taste.
For a wide selection of cheeses from around the world, as well as locally made cheeses, look for a cheese shop in your area. In addition to finding a cheese shop near you, you may also find other items such as cured meats and fresh olives, as well as quality locally made and unique imported ingredients.
Whenever possible, buy from a cheese counter versus cheese in the cooler section. You will find higher-quality options that are fresher and more flavorful. You will find fresh wheels of cheese and a cheesemonger who can give you advice on different cheeses and cut the cheese to your desired size. You can even ask for a taste to make sure you like it.
While fresh cheese cut from a wheel is a great option, there are also excellent prepackaged cheeses available at the cheese counter. If you're near a Whole Foods store, they have an exclusive agreement with Herve Mons, a celebrated and award-winning French cheesemaker. I've tried all the cheeses by Herve Mons available at Whole Foods and highly recommend them.
You can also find cheese at a farmers' market. Visiting a farmer's market is a great way to find high-quality, locally-made cheese. A trip to a farmer’s market is also a fun outing with a friend or family member.
Buying fresh cheese online is easy and affordable with sites like Fromages.com. They offer excellent cheeses, mostly from France. Each order is delivered right to your door in 24 hours, and the prices are usually lower than imported cheese at the grocery store. Shipping is around $28 for about 3 pounds of cheese.
If you find a specialty shop or farm market that is a distance from where you live, it’s worth the trip to stock up. When you store cheese properly, it can last for weeks or months.
When storing cheese, it's important to wrap it in cheese paper and not plastic wrap. Cheese paper or cheese bags will let the right amount of air in without drying it out. You can also freeze cheese for up to three months.
The flavor of most cheese is enhanced when it has time to rest at room temperature. As a rule of thumb, take it out of the refrigerator when preparing dinner so it can be enjoyed after the main dish. However, if you forget or decide after dinner that you'd like some cheese, it can still be enjoyed straight from the fridge.
To serve the cheese, place it on the table with a few slices of bread, such as a baguette or rustic Italian bread. For everyday dinners, keep it simple and put the cheese on the table in its wrappers, and everyone can slice a piece. If you have company, it's nice to present the cheese on a board.
A Sweet Ending
To enjoy your cheese, take a bite-sized nibble of cheese followed by a bite-sized nibble of bread, or place the cheese on the bread and enjoy them together. If you are serving a variety of cheese, start with the mildest and work up to the most intense-flavored cheese, so the more intense flavors won't overpower the milder ones.
Cheese and bread make a great accompaniment to a light meal of soup and salad. For example, one of my favorite simple meals is a salad or soup, followed by cheese, bread, fruit, and a small piece of dark chocolate. If you have soup stored in the freezer, all you have to do is warm it up or prepare a salad for a delicious and easy "no-cook" dinner.
Another time the cheese course comes in handy is when you have leftovers that aren't enough for a full meal. Adding a cheese course and a piece of fruit creates a satisfying meal in seconds without having to cook anything else.
When you serve bread at the end of the meal, a small piece or two is all you need to be satisfied. This is in contrast to serving a cheese tray as an appetizer when you are starving and may be more inclined to overindulge.
The next time you entertain, consider serving a cheese course at the end. It is a great way to entertain guests and is a fun and interactive way to enjoy a meal together. To add to the fun, serve nuts after the cheese and before the fruit. Cracking fresh nuts is another "no-cook" course idea that provides nutrients and is enjoyable to do.
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