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Southern France Tour

‘Cutting the Cheese’ and More French Etiquette

‘Cutting the Cheese’ and More French Etiquette for your Southern France Tour

The Barefoot Blogger stumbles through France with little knowledge of the country or the language. That’s why I’m so excited that Nancy McGee, a gourmet guru, will add some culture to my blog, starting with “Cheese Etiquette.”

Nancy and I met through AIRBNB during my first visit to Sete, France. She hosts guests to stay in her fabulous apartment right on the waterway. We became instant friends.

Southern France TourOn the many trips I’ve made to Sete, it has been to attend various functions with Nancy and her friends. A Canadian who has lived in France for the last 30 years, Nancy is literally in the middle of everything in Sete.  In fact, it’s her business. She is the founder of Absolutely Southern France, a unique tourist company that specializes in offering travelers to the south of France one-of-a-kind experiences, including her gourmet walking tour of Sète. Rick Steves and TripAdvisor rank her tours as a top attraction!

Now that Nancy has agreed to author occasional posts for the Barefoot Blogger, you and I can take advantage of her knowledge of French cuisine, destinations, and food etiquette. To find out more about Nancy and Absolutely Southern France, check out her page on Barefoot Blogger.

Let’s learn about ‘Cutting the Cheese’ – French style.

Cheese Etiquette – Roquefort – by Nancy McGee

Shortly after arriving in France, I was invited as a guest of honor at an eight-night dinner party. I was flattered but also somewhat apprehensive as to the correct protocol. And so I dusted off my French etiquette book, which suggested simply following what the host does. It made perfect sense and worked well – up to a point! Imagine my horror when I was the first to be invited to serve myself from the cheese platter. A selection of cheeses in all shapes and sizes, some familiar, others perfect strangers, confronted me.

Southern France Tour
French cheese plate

Sitting imperiously in the center of the platter, the famed Roquefort, and it had the air of just waiting for me to commit an error!. Numerous questions presented themselves: should I cut a piece from just one cheese or from several – and what size? In an effort to be fair, I tried mentally dividing the cheeses into equal parts for the seven other guests – who, by this time, were wondering if I would ever pass the platter around!

Now, after over 30 years in France and any number of dinner parties, I recommend this when confronted with a similar dilemma: Take what you can! That platter may not return to you, and your favorite cheese might be gone even if it does. So go for it the first time around! There is only one totally unacceptable error: to take an entire piece of cheese. One other useful tip: if you are the host, you should serve yourself last.

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Be prepared to fall in love with France, all over again!

That is not quite the end of your troubles, however. Let us return to the Roquefort – the ‘cheese of kings and popes’ and a reputed favorite of Emperor Charlemagne. No self-respecting cheese platter in France would be without it, but beware – it demands respect and is full of hazards for the unwary! Oh, la…

Southern France Tour
Roquefort and wine-tasting

First, a word about Roquefort. This creamy white cheese is made with sheep’s milk and injected with mold from rye bread to produce blue veins. It is then rolled in coarse salt and stored in caves in the village of Roquefort for three months. Roquefort is located at the base of a cliff that shifted long ago to create crevasses, which the cheesemakers now use as cellars. Temperatures in the cellars year-round are between 8 to 10 degrees, and 80 percent humidity provides the perfect conditions for producing the cheese.

Now, let’s get back to helping yourself to Roquefort cheese and how to avoid the two most common faux pas.

First, never serve yourself the creamy blue edge in the middle. That would be considered bad manners since it is the best part. (I don’t know if this is true, but my cheese merchant told me that men are the worst offenders!)

The second mistake is to vertically cut a piece from top to bottom – it isn’t fair to other guests! The person after you will get the outer slice with the mostly salty crust, while the person with the slice in the middle will have the best creamy part with the tasty mold. The proper way to cut Roquefort cheese is from the center outwards toward the rind (i.e. in the shape of a triangle),

Roquefort is just an hour’s drive from Montpellier and Sète, and all the Roquefort cheese in the entire world comes from this tiny village. Once, there were 30 producers, and today, there are just 7.

For a personal cheese étiquette experience during your Southern France Tour,  join Nancy on a Gourmet Walking Tour of Sète and/or Montpellier.


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