Amanda & Merrill

Cheese Myths, Busted!

April  7, 2017

As someone who is passionate about all things cheese (my nickname in the office is Backup Cheese—don't ask), I feel it is my duty to address some common misconceptions about this most important of food groups. No, I cannot police the way you eat cheese, and you may have your own opinions on what is or isn't the right way—but I have many years of cheese-eating expertise under my belt. You can trust me.

Straight ahead: five common cheese myths, de-bunked.

The cheese overfloweth! Photo by Bobbi Lin

1. A proper cheese board is overflowing with a bounty of textures, flavors and colors.

False. When I'm composing a cheese board, I like to stick to two or three cheeses and just a few carefully selected accompaniments (olives, bread or crackers, maybe a chutney or some membrillo). A streamlined cheese board sends a message to your guests that you've deliberately chosen your absolute favorites—true winners—to share with them. Remember this mantra: A tightly curated cheese selection signals confidence.

2. You must serve crackers, bread or another form of starch with cheese.

Wrong again. A plate with a few pieces of perfectly room temperature cheese, a small pile of almonds, and a pool of honey or tomato jam makes a lovely cheese course. Without all that bread, your guests will have more room for cheese—just don't forget a knife and fork!

3. Cheese and butter? Gross!

Not so! You may cringe at the idea of spreading butter on a cracker or a piece of bread and then layering with cheese. (If this sounds familiar, I'm guessing you also shudder at the thought of butter on a roast beef or ham sandwich.) When it comes to butter and cheese, you must realize: There can never be too much of a good thing. On a trip to Normandy last year, we were encouraged by our host to butter our bread before eating it with the local cheeses; he insisted that everyone in France knows this trick. No one understands fromage better than the French. So if they do it, shouldn't you?

Says a Frenchman: Butter your bread before piling on a hunk of cheese. #protip #f52abroad @staub_usa

A post shared by Merrill Stubbs Dorman (@merrillstubbs) on

4. Cheese and seafood together are a no-no.

In Italy, tradition rejects combining seafood with cheese, regarding it as one of the gravest culinary offenses. Naysayers claim that aggressive ingredients, like cheese, easily overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of fish. But examples of a joyful marriage between seafood and cheese abound all over the globe: In France, there is Lobster Thermidor; the Chesapeake Bay is famous for its creamy, cheesy crab dip; and anchovies are a pizza topping enjoyed by many (if not in Italy itself). This one is up to you: if you feel like grating a little Parmesan over your seafood risotto, or swirling some mascarpone into your mussel broth, have at it.

5. Brie is better when baked.

Patently untrue. Once you heat Brie (or Camembert, or any soft-ripened cheese) well past room temperature, it quickly loses its signature creaminess. Baked Brie is runny and molten straight from the oven, but then begins to cool almost immediately. Once you start to dig into cooled brie, you're left with greasy, congealed puddles of cheese that are not only unappetizing but difficult to scrape up and transport to your mouth. My recommendation: eat soft-ripened cheese at room temperature (or even a bit cooler), ideally with some bread and butter (see above).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Usually, it's just one cheese, like Brie or maybe a local chèvre, ”
— AliceH

There you have it. If you have other cheese myths to poke holes in, please let me know in the comments! Every day is a good day for a healthy debate about cheese.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


stephanie April 18, 2017
my favorite thing about leftover easter or xmas ham dinner is having ham & butter sandwiches. it was the only time my parents would have real butter in the house, along with nice rolls or bread. add a nice slice of ham, presto. nothing else needed.

also, i do think cheeseboards should have a variety of textures, flavors, and colors and feel that your example of a good one does, but i suppose the keyword is "overflowing."
haapi April 16, 2017
Still trying to figure out why picture of sardines for a blurb about anchovies?
Jill April 8, 2017
Have you tried Stilton on a ginger cookie? It makes a party in your mouth. I was raised on French cheeses. Why waste them on a cracker or bread. I enjoy the way Roquefort opens your sinuses when you roll it around your mouth before swallowing!
Rhonda35 April 8, 2017
RE: Butter. As a kid, my mother's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were always in demand amongst the neighborhood kids. Her secret? She buttered the bread before spreading the peanut butter and jelly. SO GOOD!! (The homemade bread and jam helped, too!)
stephanie April 18, 2017
my gramma made me peanut butter and butter sandwiches as a kid. or sometimes it would be butter and jam on a biscuit. (i did not like pb&j or worse, pb&fluff.) fond, delicious memories that i dare not dredge up now, lol! (okay, i still do once in a blue moon.)
AliceH April 8, 2017
I spent two semesters studying in France. Before that, I worked in the cheese department of a gourmet food market (Balducci's on 10th St in NYC, for those of you who lived there in the 80s). So I, too, have learned to live cheeses- preferably French and the stingier, the better. But I stop at Limburger (yet love Époisse).
I was poor American student who first went to a sandwich truck and asked for ham and cheese on my baguette. They offered ham sandwiches ( with butter instead of mayo) and cheese sandwiches (with butter, of course), but apparently, ham AND cheese was too decadent for them, and the guy gave me an "ohlalala!" which, in French, is equivalents to how we tend to exclaim, "Oh, my God" in its various forms with all its meanings depending on how you deliver it. In this case, it sounded like he thought I was an indulgent person.
And to echo Merrill, cheese isn't served with bread or crackers (crackers is very American), but served almost daily on its own after a meal. Usually, it's just one cheese, like Brie or maybe a local chèvre,
AliceH April 8, 2017
Ack, Autocorrect just didn't want me to type "stinkier".
Elizabeth April 23, 2017
Ha,ha. Very funny?
That sandwich story reminded me of similar tastes in The Netherlands where I grew up. The ham and cheese sandwich....aghast! just not done there either.
Marcia R. April 8, 2017
Merrill .... and Chef June... would LOVE to hear some of your current favorite cheese selections!
Lazyretirementgirl April 8, 2017
I just bought a sensational cheese from a local shop ( the cheesemonger in Santa Fe) -- the Blue Jay, from Wisconsin. Very mild triple cream with juniper berries. Yowza!
AliceH April 24, 2017
I am not sure if the post was addresses to me, but I will add my thoughts anyway because I love cheese and talking about it. I am aware that there are lots of new cheeses that I haven't tried because it's been more than 20 years since I had lived in France. And there has also been a lot of really good artisanal American cheeses now than there were 30 years ago that are excellent (many I haven't tried). But I can comment on the classic cheeses. My favorites have always been of French origin, but I won't say "no" to a perfectly ripe Italian soft-ripening cheese (my fave type across the board) like Taleggio or a grainy, salty Parmiggiano Reggiano. I like Chaumes, a semi-soft mild cow's milk with a slight bite to it. Pont l'Éveque", a soft-ripening, washed rind is square, comes in a wooden box like bries, can be quite pungent for some people. And I do love Brie, but only imported and only if dead ripe. Most supermarkets don't know when a wheel of Brie is ripe and will cut into it, halting the ripening process and ruining the whole wheel. Don't buy the wedge if it has a firm, chalky strip in the middle, a tell-tale sign that the Brie was not ready to be cut. And if the rind smells like ammonia, the cheese can be too ripe. Sometimes it is still edible; just don't eat the rind.
I don't know if this is still in production, but Vacherin Mont d'Or is a soft-ripening cheese much like a Brie but made with raw milk, but it has more depth in flavor and can be stronger or milder depending on the time of year and what the cows were fed- grazing on grass or hay in winter.
My cheese knowledge is pretty old. These days, I no longer live near good cheese shops and whoop with joy if I see anything other than cheddars-cheddars from Wisconsin, NY, VT, Ireland, England (England has my least favorite cheeses except for Stilton Blue which I love more than Roquefort or Italian Gorgonzola)...
TatianaMH April 8, 2017
I agree with you about baked Brie with one exception. We like to take a lovely crusty baguette and slice it every inch without cutting through the bottom of the bread. Then put a generous piece of Brie in the openings, wrap the bread in foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. This with a citrusy salad is one of our favorite summer meals.
Nicole S. April 8, 2017
While we're on the subject of cheese, I have found adding a tablespoon or two of grated Parmesan to my Asian stir fries, or fried rice, takes them up to a new umami level.
Nicole S. April 8, 2017
While we're on the subject of cheese, I have found adding a tablespoon or two of grated Parmesan to my Asian stir fries, or fried rice, takes them up to a new umami level.
petalpusher April 8, 2017
Okay, I hope I wasn't the only reader who had to look up 'membrillo'. Yes, quince paste! My mom loved to eat cheese with guava paste. Thank you for the vocabulary prompt. We like extremely sharp cheddar with Emilie Tolley's Lemon-Basil Apricot Chutney. Double that recipe right from the gitgo.
stephanie April 18, 2017
yup! i had a roommate in college who introduced me to gouda and guava paste. not a clue where she got it from (she's neither hispanic or latina) but it was delicious and has stuck with me. just wish i could get guava paste in small quantities.
Eugene J. April 1, 2018
In the Philippines, you eat aged Gouda (questions de bola) with guava jelly on pan de sal or breakfast roll or if you are indulgent, inside an ensaimada or Spanish brioche and grilled
Pamela_in_Tokyo April 8, 2017
Cheese layered with butter, at last, people who think like me! Oops! Or is it the other way round??
ChefJune April 7, 2017
Brava, Merrill! As another dedicated cheeser (who just got back from France!) the only thing I have to add is PLEASE take your cheese out of the fridge a good hour before you want to serve/eat it. Cold cheese causes one to miss most if not all of the nuances of flavor.
And I love to serve cheese with fresh fruit and no bread or crackers. Cheddar and apples are classic, as is blue cheese and pears.
DMStenlake April 7, 2017
Yes, cheese and butter! My dad used to melt a good strong cheddar on mom's apple pie and top it with butter. And as you say butter on sandwiches or pâté. Yummy!