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.
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?
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).
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.