It’s the festive season, and if you’re anything like me then you’ve probably got a calendar packed full of cocktail parties to go to, and dinner parties to host. One of my go-to things to make—and I use the word “make” loosely here—is a nice, festive cheese platter. I like it because all it requires is a few moments of assembling things, and it’s stress-free. All you need is a visit to your local cheese counter, and a well-stocked pantry. And though they require little effort, when done properly cheese platters can look very impressive. Also: who doesn’t like cheese?
I was lucky enough to meet Meilleur Ouvrier de France Francois Robin last week, and I asked him all about what it takes to be an award-winning cheese monger, and which cheeses he loves to include in his festive platters.
I’ll also show you what my cheese platter looks like, and tell you all about the things I love to include.
S: Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
FR: My name is Francois Robin, and I am a cheese monger. That is, my job is to select, age, and sell cheeses. I’m sort of like a sommelier, but for cheese instead of wine.
S: That sounds very cool. How does somebody get to have a job like yours?
FR: Well, in France, there is a school for that. It’s part hands-on and part theoretical. It takes a year to become a regular cheese monger, five years to become a good one, and ten years to become a really, really good one.
S: You’ve probably tasted hundreds, if not thousands, of cheeses. Do you have a favorite?
FR: Hundreds, not thousands! And I never answer that question because I tend to eat cheese according to my mood. Sometimes I want something punchy and salty, because I want to be woken up. Other times I’ll be at home and I’ll want something comforting and familiar, so I’ll pick something different. I also pick cheese according to the season. So, in short, my favorite cheese depends on my mood at a certain moment, and the season.
S: That’s a great answer! Right now it’s the festive season, and people are entertaining a lot more than usual. Do you have any tips or guidelines for putting together a great festive cheese platter?
FR: My top three tips are:
(1) Take your cheeses out of the fridge 20 minutes before eating them.
(2) Try to have the mildest cheese first, and the strongest cheese last, so you can really taste and enjoy each one.
(3) If you want to have a milder, or more varied experience with cheese, pair it with bread or fruit.
S: What is the ideal number of cheeses to make a good cheese platter?
FR: It really depends on how many people there are, and what you’re trying to achieve. As a rule of thumb, I’d say 5-6 cheeses for 8-10 people, and 3-4 cheeses for 4-5 people. But sometimes you might have just three people that will devour ten cheeses, so it really depends!
S: What kinds of cheeses would you put on a platter?
FR: I’d put one each of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk cheeses, because it’s classic to do so. I would also vary the texture, so I’d try to pick a runny cheese, a crumbly one, and a hard cheese. If I had to choose three specific types, I’d probably go for Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Vacherin Mont d’Or, and Roquefort. They’re generally easy to find and work really well on a platter.
S: Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a lovely holiday season!
Using Francois’ tips, here’s what I used for my cheese platter, pictured above (clockwise, from the top):
Chabichou du Poitou (goat’s cheese; soft and creamy)
Tomme de Savoie (cow’s cheese; semi-firm)
Roquefort (sheep’s cheese; crumbly, blue)
To complete my cheese platter, I added fig crackers, mini oat cakes, dried cranberries, raisins, dried figs and apricots, grapes, dates, and hazelnuts.
I’d love to know what some of your favourite cheeses are, so please let me know in the comments below.
I hope you have a wonderful festive season!