The Cheese Mistake Americans Often Make In France

France is considered by many to be one of the greatest places in the world to enjoy cheese. It's a country that's home to hundreds or even thousands of different types, from funky Roquefort to gooey Camembert — and the kind of authentic French Brie you won't find Stateside. Many French cheeses (more than 40 types) are even marked AOP, or appellation d'origine protégée (Protected Designation of Origin), meaning that they can only be made in a specific manner and a specific region of France.

It's normal to want to sample as many French cheeses as you can while visiting France, but there's one mistake that many Americans make when enjoying their dairy delights. While in the United States, it's customary to eat cheese as an appetizer before a meal, in France, cheese is typically served near the end of a meal, after the main course, and before dessert. So if you order a plate of cheese at a bistro immediately followed by a burger, you might raise some incredibly French eyebrows.

The cheese course

The cheese course is a favorite among many French people, and it is common for restaurants to wheel out a designated cheese cart (aptly named chariot à fromages) after the main course for diners to examine and select from. And if you're dining with a French family, they might bring out a cheese platter near the end of the night, usually followed by dessert, or perhaps a simple fruit plate.

Ideally, the cheese course has a minimum of three cheeses of various types. So you might have a soft, tangy goat cheese; a mild and semi-hard comté; and a nutty, crumbly mimolette all on the same platter. It's recommended to eat them in the order of funkiness, starting with the mildest cheese and working your way up to the strongest flavor, so as not to overpower the palate. Cheeses are meant to be served at room temperature, so serving them near the end of a meal allows you to set them out on the counter ahead of time and serve them just when they are ready to be eaten.


There is one crucial exception to the "no cheese before dinner" rule in France, however: l'apéro. This is a traditional French gathering where pre-dinner drinks (l'apéritifs) and small bites are served. Light snacks such as olives, nuts, or dips are served, but charcuterie and cheese plates are also common. Though in France, "charcuterie" explicitly refers to dried and cured meats, and doesn't include cheese as American charcuterie boards often do. A plate that comes with both would be called a planche mixte in French.

However, apéro is closer to happy hour than an appetizer course — and is typically hosted much earlier than dinner. It also won't generally take place in the same location as your main meal. So this doesn't technically count as eating cheese at the start of a meal because you will have plenty of time to digest your snacks before the first course is even on its way. After all, dinner in France doesn't usually start until close to 8:00 p.m.