The Cheese Course
Many a young gentleman who does not hail from a culture known for its exquisite cheeses is oftentimes uncertain as to whether he should eat the rind of a cheese—that relatively firm crust that forms on cheese during the cheese-making, cheese-aging process. And the answer is: It depends.
Some cheeses, such as Feta, are not aged long enough to develop a rind. Some other cheeses are “ripened” in protective coverings to prevent the formation of “true rinds.” Those protective coverings, or synthetic rinds, are commonly made of plastic, cloth, bark, or wax, and, obviously, should not be eaten—at least not by gentlemen. Gouda, Brick, or Colby, any fromager will attest, is best had without its manmade “rind.” Natural cheese rind, however, derives from the same mold and bacteria that create cheese and is edible, though not always desirable. Some connoisseurs insist that all natural rinds should be eaten, arguing that they impart a particular flavor, aroma, and uniqueness of character to the cheese. Other experts are of the position that whether to eat or not to eat the rind is a question of personal taste, reasoning that some rinds are unappetizingly rigid, as in the case of Parmesan, or simply unpalatable. But despite the different schools of thought, many experts agree that the rinds of some cheeses should always be eaten: Brie, Camembert, Liederkranz, and Brillat-Savarin, to name just a few. To those authorities, the rinds of such cheeses enhance the flavor of the cheeses they embrace, and to discard such rinds would be an insult to the age-old tradition of fine cheese-making as well as to the fine men and women who devote their lives to the profession. And that, they insist, is nothing to smile about.
The cheese course will usually be served with a knife and a fork. Soft cheeses like Brie should be cut with the knife, then conveyed to the mouth with the fork. Hard, difficult-to-cut cheeses such as Parmesan should be broken with the fingers, conveying thereafter the desired portion to the mouth.
It was once common for cheese to be presented with fresh fruit—usually cored, pared, and quartered apples or pears—as a dessert course, but that tradition is much less popular today. Most 21st-century hostesses will present cheese as a separate course—typically following the traditionally placed salad course.