In an earlier post, we shared an essential cheese knife guide with the promise to have an addendum on how to properly cut cheese. Sharpen your cheese knives, the day has come.
Cheese is made up of several layers of flavor. This means the taste differs depending on how and what part of the cheese you’re cutting. In order to enjoy all the aspects of cheese beyond palate and nose, it’s important to consider the shape, rind and texture of each.
Based on these factors as well as overall structure, today we share a few tips with easy diagrams on how to cut and serve cheese.
In addition to using the correct knife, it’s also important to cut your cheese shortly before serving. Even more important is cutting and serving your cheese at room temperature. If, for practical reasons, you need to prep your cheeseboard in advance, cover it with a damp cloth so the slices won’t dry out, or sweat out their natural fat.
If you’re serving cheeses with edible rinds, you’ll want to cut them so that each bite has the equal amount of interior paste and rind. Peel any cheese whose rind is swathed in protective wax (or any other non-edible protective finish). There’s a way of doing this correctly.
Remember this is not just formal protocol: cutting a cheese correctly goes to the benefit of the overall sensory experience.
Have your sharpened cheese knife collection neatly laid out? Did you polish your olive wood board/marble platter? Hint: rubbing a few drops of olive oil on the surface will prevent younger, soft cheeses from sticking. If the answer to both is yes, we’re ready to start.
Here’s how to cut various shapes of cheese.
To cut small, round and flat wheels of soft cheese, like Robiola or Camembert––whose rind is edible––place the cheese on your cutting board and start by cutting it in half, straight down the middle. Continue by cutting the halves into quarters and so on. To make sure that the serving size remains consistent, always cut into evenly sized wedges, like you would a cake.
In these cheeses, however, the center is often the ripest part, and to be fair everyone at the table should have a part of that fudgy, lovable core. So avoid dividing the wedges horizontally. Cutting the tip (“nose”) of a cheese wedge is also considered poor cheese etiquette: it’s the piece with the most flavor and softness. It is also incorrect to dig out the gooey center of a soft cheese like Epoisses.
You can apply the cake slicing method to truncated pyramids, think Pouligny-Saint-Pierre. In this case place the narrow wedge on its side and carve down parallel slices for smaller portions.
Same goes for spherical-looking round wheels with flat faces and rounded heels, like caciotta or some Tuscan pecorinos. Once you’ve obtained your wedges you can then decide to further slice these into rods, triangles and/or cubes.
This crinkled effect is obtained with what is known as a taglio artistico. This is a special “artistic” way of carving the rind only externally and then pulling the wheel open by hand, to reveal the uneven and “rustic” interior paste. This is usually done with Pecorinos that are aged between 4 and 6 months.
Once your cheesemonger has cut large wheels with a big diameter––like Comté, Bitto or Branzi––in more manageable portions, you can carve your wedge in a variety of ways. Either halving the height; slicing on the diagonal; in vertical strips, or into larger blocks.
For tall cylindrical shapes, cheesemongers usually cut the shape in half, parallel to the faces. If the heel is no more than 10-15 centimeters high, they proceed in wedges.
Lay soft cylindrical cheeses––like Chèvre, or ash-ripened goat cheeses––on their side and cut even-sized coins, like a stick of butter. Depending on desired serving size, you can divide the coins further in half (crescent shape) or in quarters for a triangles.
Usually for Alpine cheeses like Gruyère, Formai de Mut, Vezzena or Paganella, you can divide the half-wheels into crescents. Then further slice wedges in half.
To cut block cheese, like ragusano or cheddar, it’s important to remember that cutting the slices too thin means your cheese will dry out more quickly. This will make it harder to cut, too. If you start cutting equal rods lengthwise from the rind to the edge, then slice horizontally to make small cubes.
You can adopt several ways to cut cheese sold as flat triangular wedges, like Fontina, Gouda, Gruyère, Brie. The diagrams below show a few options.
Carve blue cheese wedges of aged Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Strachitunt in a fan design. Pinpoint the center of the bottom edge and cut in a radial pattern towards the rear to achieve triangular cheese pieces. This assures each slice has the same ratio of nose-and-heel, and evenly distributed blue veining.
Serve younger, runnier blues in a bowl with a few small teaspoons or butter knives to smear on bread and crackers.
Cutting a giant Parmigiano wheel is a monumental operation, and should be performed by a seasoned professional. See a fascinating video below. When purchasing a hunk of Parmigiano for a cheese board (and not for grating) use the teardrop Parmigiano knife. Simply stab and twist to break off scaglie, uneven slivers. Careful, eating these Parmigiano petals is highly addictive, it will be hard to stop.
Cut large gourd-shaped cheeses, such as caciocavallo, into quarters lengthwise, and then slice further into triangular portions. You should remove the rind in most of these cheeses.
Ideally you should cut square tiles like Taleggio, Salva Cremasco and Quartirolo along the diagonals, and then slicing into triangular prisms. However, it’s generally easier to cut square cheeses into square fourths and then into slices. Even if this means the outer portion will end up having much more rind.
Carve large egg- or sausage-shaped spun curd cheeses like Provolone Valpadana in wedges down the vertical middle. Do this following the naturally formed “binding” grooves where the twine holds the shape of the cheese together. Then you can further cut the wedges horizontally, into half-crescent slices.
Now that you have successfully cut the cheese employing the correct instruments, it’s important that you choose your accoutrements wisely. You can do better than Triscuits and water crackers! Invest in some good sourdough bread (or make your own), buy a baguette to go with your French stinkers. Choose ciabatta, breadsticks or focaccia. You can even make your own crackers with sourdough starter discard! Whatever the vehicle, you’ll also need jams, honeys, fruit and additional items to embellish the serving platter…
But that’s another story. So stay tuned!