The Ultimate French Cheese Course!

And Other Ideas for
Elegant Entertaining with Cheese
in the French Style

In France a proper French Cheese Course is often served at the end of the meal, instead of dessert. Here in the U.S. we rarely host such formal dinners with many courses. So we are most likely to find a cheese course at a 4 Star restaurant. In New York City, at the renowned Picholine restaurant founded by Max McCalman and Terrance Brennan, 3/4 of the dinner guests order a cheese course as part of their meal. Picholine, boasting a glass-doored cheese cellar in its private dining room, became such a success that McCalman and Brennan subsequently opened Artisanal, a restaurant in NYC focused on cheese.



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Artisanal offers 250 cheeses, happily resting and ripening in the state-of-the-art, walk-in cheese cave which has 5 different climate zones to accomodate the varying temperature needs of the special cheeses, imported from all over the world - and of course including many artisanal cheeses from American cheesemakers.

If you are in NYC you owe yourself a treat - make a reservation and indulge your passion for fine, gourmet cheese. By the way, Max McCalman is probably the top cheese expert, the top Maître Fromager in the U.S.. He has written many books on cheese and teaches classes on cheese at the Cheese Institute and at Artisanal.

Take a good look below at the chart for a French Cheese Course. It is divided into 4 groups, based on the idea of a Cheese Clock. Beginning with Group 1 (let's place it at 6-9 pm on a clock), the progression moves from simple on up to complex (Groups 3 and 4) - from young cheeses to more aged cheeses - from mild flavor to strong flavor - and ending with the Blues in Group 4. So Group 2 will be at 9 to noon on the clock; Group 3 will be at noon to 3 pm on the clock and Group 4 will be at 3 to 6 pm on the clock.

Depending on the type of party and number of guests, you will select 1-2 cheeses from each group, along with 1-2 wines which are listed below with the cheeses they pair well with. Use this chart as a starting point, and as a reference later on, when you are more comfortable with your cheese and wine selections.


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  • Italian Cheeses Assort. (2 lb)

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1st Group - Young, Mild Goat Cheeses; Bloomy Rinds; Double and Triple Crèmes

Select 1 or 2:

Brillat Savarin with Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Cow, Triple Crème, Bloomy Rind)
Pierre Robert with Champagne
(Cow, Triple Crème, Bloomy Rind)
Crottin de Chèvre with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Fresh Goat, soft, 10 days to 6 weeks aging)
Selles sur Cher with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Goat, semi soft, natural rind, 60+ days aging)
Valençay with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Fresh Goat, semi soft)
Brin d’Amour with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Sheep and/or Goat, semi soft, natural rind, from Corsica, Herb Crusted)

2nd Group - Soft to Semi-Firm; Mild Cow, Aged Goat or Sheep

Select 1 or 2:

Brie de Meaux with Chardonnay or Gewürztraminer
(Cow, Bloomy Rind, Soft)
Abbaye de Belloc with Pinot Noir
(Sheep, Semi firm, natural rind)
Ossau-Iraty with Pouilly Fumé or Merlot
(Sheep, Semi firm, natural rind)
Cabecou Feuille with Chardonnay
(Goat, Soft, dipped in Plum Brandy, wrapped
in Chestnut Leaves)
Morbier with Red Rhône or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Semi soft, natural rind)
Chevrot with Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
(Goat, Semi soft, Washed Rind, good starter Goat Cheese)



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3rd Group - Hard Mountain Cheeses; Washed Rinds; Stronger Flavors, Nuttier, More-Complex Nuances

Select 1 or 2:

Pont-l’Évêque with Calvados or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Washed Rind, “Stinky”)
Livarot with Calvados or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Washed Rind, “Stinky”)
Tomme de Savoie with Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Semi soft to Semi firm, natural rind)
Abondance with Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Firm, Washed Rind)
Saint Marcellin with Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
(Cow, Soft, Bloomy Rind, packed in pottery crock)
Salers (Cantal Cheese Family) with Côtes du Rhône
(Cow, Semi firm, natural rind, Mountain Cheese)                                            
Raclette with Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir                                                           
(Cow, Semi soft, brushed rind)

4th Group - The Blues

Select 1 or 2:

Roquefort (Carles is best brand) with Sauternes
(Sheep, Blue, natural rind, sharp, crumbly, moist)
Fourme d’Ambert with Sauternes
(Cow, Blue, natural rind, rich, less sharp)
Bleu d’Auvergne with Sauternes
(Cow, Blue, natural rind, rich, medium sharpness)




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Organizing the Party

If you are planning a French Cheese Course party - as a stand-alone kind of party occasion without the appetizers, entrée, salad and dessert courses - this is what you do: Select 7-9 cheeses in all, 1-2 from each of the 4 Groups. Arrange your choices on a table in a clock formation - your dining room table, using attractive plates, platters, boards or trays. Group 1 will be the starting point for your French Cheese Course party and will be placed on 1/4 of your table. Moving clockwise, Group 2 will then be arranged on the next quarter, Group 3 on the 3rd quarter and Group 4 on the 4th quarter. Your Wine selections will be grouped with their Paired Cheeses. Plan on portion sizes of 1.5-2 oz of each cheese, for each guest. Use a separate knife for each cheese! It's a great idea to place cards with the cheese and wine names, types, region of origin, on the table. Small placecards work well for this. Most people don't have enough wine glasses to provide fresh glasses for each wine, for each guest. So it's perfectly okay to use the plastic wine glasses you can find in most wine shops, party stores and even supermarkets. Be sure to buy enough so that the guests can grab a fresh glass for each wine as they move around the table.


If you are planning a French Cheese Course at the end of a seated dinner, then select 3 cheeses total: 1 from Group 1, 1 from Group 2 or 3, and 1 from Group 4. You will want to pre-slice the cheeses and pre-arrange them on individual dessert plates, along with the accompaniments you have chosen. You may continue to serve the wine that you served with the main entrée - or, if you are feeling generous - serve Champagne along with the cheeses. Plan on portion sizes of 1.5 oz of each cheese, for each guest. But if you found the perfect wedge of Carles Roquefort at the Cheese Shop - then by all means let it stand alone as the grand finale to your dinner, along with its perfect wine accompaniment - a bottle of Sauternes. Nothing else is needed!

If you are serving a Selection of Cheeses with Wines as Appetizers, either before dinner, or as a stand-alone informal occasion, then select 3 cheeses: 1 from Group 1, 1 from Group 2 and 1 from Group 3. You may want to select a Blue from Group 4, but I recommend that you skip the Blues if the cheese is being served before dinner. Set up a Cheese Board or Platter for the 3 cheeses and group your accompaniments around the cheeses.

Plan on portion sizes of 2-3 oz of each cheese, for each guest. Again, one knife per cheese, please. Wines are your preference. You may wish to serve only Champagne, or Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), which work quite well with many cheeses. If there are a number of guests, then provide both Red and White Wines as per the chart above, along with or instead of, the Champagne or sparkling wine.


What About Accompaniments? ... I hear you ask!

Here are some suggestions. Most gourmet food stores offer a wide selection of terrific condiments you can serve with your cheeses.

Buy the best French baguettes you can find - with crunchy crusts, not soft, wimpy crusts.

Or buy some artisanal hearty breads like Tuscan Boules, or Country Breads or Sourdough Breads, ideally from a bakery. Slice the baguettes and breads thinly. Plain crackers are fine, but breads are better! Common accompaniments to a cheese course are nuts, fruits such as thin sliced Fuji or Gala apples and Bosc pears, grapes, strawberries, dates and figs, cornichons (little French pickles).

Some great pairings for you to try with your French Cheese Course -

Double and Triple crème cheeses with walnut/raisin country bread or pecan/raisin bread.
Fresh Young Goat Chèvres with figs and specialty fruit chutneys like mango and ginger, drizzled honey.
Washed-Rind Cheeses like Pont-l'Évêque work well with a shallot confit.
Blue Cheeses with nuts, dried fruits like apricots and dates, fig marmalade, with walnut/raisin bread, even with thinly sliced red onion.
A variety of nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds works with all cheeses.
Sheep Milk Cheeses with honey, good fruit preserves like Black Cherry.



Go to Wine and Cheese Party Menus from Around the World

Go from French Cheese Course to Entertaining - Cheese Courses

Go to Pairing French Cheeses with Wine

Go to French Cheeses A-L

Go to French Cheeses M-Z


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