The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat cheese. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.
What cheese etiquette is
There are many different varieties of cheese. Every cheese has its own serving and eating etiquette. However, there are some etiquette principles that apply to most cheeses.
Cheese etiquette is the set of general principles to properly serve and eat cheese. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.
If you are hosting, follow cheese etiquette to serve it to your guests appropriately.
If you are a guest, respect cheese etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy it.
What you should know about cheese
Cheese is a dairy product. It is derived from milk.
Over a thousand types of cheese exist. Cheese types vary by flavor and texture. Each type can vary due to aging, type of milk, pasteurization, and processing method.
Soft cheese tends to be younger in aging. Cream cheese, cottage cheese, goat cheese, or Ricotta.
Hard cheese tends to be older. Asiago, Cheddar, or Parmigiano.
Etiquette rules to serve and eat cheese
1) How to store cheese
Store cheese in the fridge. Soft cheese can last between 1 and 2 weeks. Hard cheese between 4 and 6 weeks.
It is best to avoid the freezer. Freezing spoils the flavor and texture of the cheese.
You can keep soft cheese outside, at room temperature, for up to 4 hours. Hard cheese can stay outside for several days, as long as the temperature is not above 25°C (78°F).
Do not store cheese in plastic. Plastic prevents the cheese from “breathing”, spoiling its flavor and texture. It is best to store cheese in a cheese box, or in cheese paper.
2) How to clean cheese
Do not wash cheese.
The rind and the mold are usually edible. You can remove the rind when you eat cheese. You do not need to scratch the mold away.
3) How to cook cheese
You can use cheese as an ingredient in several recipes. Above 32°C (90°F) most cheese starts to melt. Grill, bake, or pan-fry.
Some types of cheese are perfect ingredients for salads. Goat cheese, Parmigiano, Feta, or Gorgonzola.
Some guests may be intolerant or allergic to lactose. Ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions before you plan the menu.
4) How to serve & present cheese
Serve cheese as an appetizer or at the end of the meal. You can serve cheese before or after the dessert. Cheese is appropriate for pre-dinner drinks, such as an aperitivo.
You should serve a small selection of cheese. Less than 4 or 5 is too few. More than 8 could be too many. Place them on a serving platter, a cheese board, or a cutting board. Order cheese by flavor, from mild to strong. Provide a dedicated serving utensil or knife for each cheese.
You can present cheese in large pieces, or cut it into individual servings. Wedges, slices, or cubes. Cut cheese along its length, from the center to the rind. Do not cut the point or the ‘nose’ off the cheese. Some consider it the best part, so it has to be shared.
It is best to serve cheese at room temperature. Between 18°C and 22°C (65°F and 72°F) is ideal for the cheese to release its flavor and present its optimal texture. Take the cheese out of the fridge between 30 and 60 minutes before serving.
5) Foods and beverages to pair cheese with
The ideal food and wine to pair with cheese vary by cheese type.
Pair cheese with jams, honey, sauces, and fruit. Pear, apple, strawberries, berries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, figs, or plums.
Cheese can go well with ham, seasoned cured meat, pizza, pasta, and vegetables. Potatoes, chives, or asparagus.
Do not pair cheese with fish or seafood.
Each type of cheese has its ideal wine pairings. In general, you should match the strengths of the wine and of the cheese. Pair delicate or mild cheese with light-bodied wines. Match bold and strong cheese with mid-bodied or full-bodied wines. Red, white, sparkling, or dessert wines can all pair well.
6) How to eat cheese
Do not eat cheese straight from the cheese board or serving plate. Cut your cheese and put it onto your plate. Never use your knife to cut the cheese from a cheese board or serving plate. Use the provided serving knife instead.
If the cheese is a roll, like goat cheese, cut a slice of the roll. If the cheese is a soft spread, serve yourself with a spoon. With round cheese, like Camembert, cut yourself a triangular portion. When the cheese is served in wedges, such as Brie, cut a sliver along its full length. Do not cut the ‘nose’ off the cheese. Doing so is bad table manners. To eat melting seasoned cheese, such as Gorgonzola, do not scoop the melted cheese. Cut a sliver instead. With a hard seasoned cheese, such as Parmigiano, cut thick flakes from the main piece.
Eat small morsels of cheese. Do not bite off mouthfuls of cheese from a larger piece.
You can eat cheese with your fingers if the cheese is hard and seasoned. Otherwise, bring cheese to your mouth on small mouthfuls of bread or biscuit. Alternatively, you can use the fork.
You can eat or discard the rind. You should eat the rind of soft cheese. It is best to discard the rind of hard cheese, as it may be dry and tough to chew.
Cheese etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst cheese etiquette mistakes.
- 9/10. Serving spoiled cheese.
- 7/10. Eating cheese the wrong way.
- 6/10. Pairing cheese with the wrong flavors.
Additional information for properly serving cheese
How many calories per serving?
Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.
The calories vary based on the type of cheese. In general, soft fresh cheese is the lightest. Hard seasoned cheese has the most calories.
For example, cottage cheese (soft, fresh) contains around 98 calories per 100 grams. Parmigiano (hard, aged) contains around 431 calories per 100 grams.
How to buy the best cheese
A crucial factor in cheese etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.
Choose the best
Every type of cheese has its peculiarity. In general, to buy the best cheese for a given type, you need to know:
- Availability and seasonality.
- Varieties of that cheese and how they differ.
- Quality indications.
You can find such tips in our guides dedicated to specific types of cheese.