November 19, 2007
How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? – Charles de Gaulle
It doesn’t take a foodie to know that the French are into cheese. Really into cheese. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the rich, creamy (occasionally stinky) obsession when even convenience stores carry three types of Camembert. That kind of availability is handy for everyday, but it also means most dinner guests expect a cheese course when you have them over.
Putting together a perfectly-balanced cheese plate sounds daunting if you haven’t grown up knowing the difference between Gruyere and Emmenthal (two “Swiss”-type cheeses: Gruyere doesn’t have holes, Emmenthal does, for starters), but it’s really not—so long as you have one of the following in your assortment:
–a soft-rind cheese like Brie or Camembert
–a hard cheese like Gruyere or Parmesan
— a goat cheese
— a blue cheese
From there you can add on whatever you like according to your taste, appetite, and budget. Maybe a gooey Muenster, an herb-coated goat log and/or a creamy, sliceable something like Manchego or Cantal. (Don’t worry about knowing what those cheeses are…there are too many to keep track of, even for cheese pros. Just choose what looks and sounds best from the cheese display.) Put them all on a plate, decorate with some nuts and dried fruit and you’ve got a gourmet cheese course—plus a week’s worth of yummy lunches for the following week.
—Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor