Dining Etiquette Series – Fruit & Cheese Course

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“Digestive cheese, and fruit there sure will bee…” ~ Inviting a Friend to Supper
by Ben Jonson

The course that follows the main course, which I talked about in last week’s entry, sometimes consists of fruit and cheese. However, this custom varies among chefs, event planners, hosts, restaurants and countries. In some cases, the cheese might stand alone! For example, as cheese is a digestive, it might follow the main course, followed by the dessert course, which might be followed by a small serving of fresh fruit to end with something refreshing and palate cleansing. This custom, however, is rare in the U.S., where a formal meal is likely to end with dessert.

Occasionally, a fresh fruit course might be served immediately following the main course, which is followed by the cheese course and then dessert. And, in some cases, a formal multicourse meal might eliminate either the cheese or fruit course, or both of these courses. However, should you be served either of these courses, or in combination with each other, here’s what you should expect.

Fruit 

The most elegant service would include fresh seasonal fruit, never canned or frozen, or even in many cases imported fresh fruit. Fresh fruit does not travel well, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And, many chefs prefer to work with locally grown produce for the best results in taste and consistency; and, of course, it helps the local economy to buy from local farms and greenhouses.

Upscale restaurants will most likely serve your fruit already sectioned or cut for your convenience. In that case, you simply use your fruit fork and fruit knife to eat your fruit. Normally, in a multi-course meal the utensils you will need will be provided when the course is served.

At a less formal dinner, your fruit might be provided in a communal bowl, in which case you will need to serve yourself.

The most common fruits to be served are:

  • Apples – With your fruit knife (you will probably not be given an apple corer at dinner), cut your apple into quarters and remove the core from each quarter. You may peel the skin off the apple if you wish, or if your digestive system requires you to do so. While it is permissible to eat each quarter using your fingers, if you are a guest at dinner watch what others are doing or use your knife and fork to cut the apple into bite-size pieces as you eat it; don’t cut up the apple first and then eat the pieces, but rather cut a few small pieces, eat them, then cut a few more, etc.
  • Grapes are properly served with a small pair of grape scissors, which you should use to cut a cluster of grapes. If no scissors are provided, gently break off a cluster with your fingers. Most restaurants and dinner hosts serve seedless grapes for the convenience of their guests. However, if you should be served seeded grapes, deposit them gently and discreetly into your cupped hand (never your napkin) and place them on your plate as inconspicuously as possible. Wipe your hands with your napkin. As for peeling grapes, that only occurs in the movies and in song lyrics.
  • Peaches and pears should be peeled first if you prefer to eat them without the peel. Then, use your fruit knife and fork to remove the stone from the peach and/or core the pear, and proceed to cut a few bite-sized pieces at a time.
  • Small stone fruit, such as cherries and kumquats are eaten whole with the fingers, and the stones are removed either with your fingers or your fork or spoon, whichever is easiest, and deposited on your plate – again, as inconspicuously and smoothly as possible. This might take some practice.
  • Kiwis and fresh pineapple are usually served already sliced on your plate; simply eat them with your knife and fork.
  • Melons are served sliced or halved; eat them with your knife and fork, or scoop out bites with your spoon.

Cheese 

A cheese course generally includes a variety of cheeses, either arranged on individual plates or on a board to be passed around  the table. Often, a selection of cheeses is presented, including a hard (such as cheddar or gouda), a soft (such as brie or camembert) and a semi-soft (such as muenster or mozzarella). The cheeses will be accompanied by plain crackers and / or crisp breads, and perhaps butter, along with a selection of spreaders and knives for the various types of cheeses. Most cheeses will be served at room temperature to bring out their flavors.

When a cheese board or platter and bread and cracker basket are passed to the right around the table, select your breads and crackers with the tongs provided or with your fingers, then help yourself to cheeses using the utensils provided for each cheese. Once the cheese, bread and crackers are on your plate you may use your knife to cut the hard cheese into smaller pieces and use your fingers to place the pieces on your crackers or bread. Use your knife to spread the softer cheeses onto your bread and crackers. You may eat your cheese and bread or crackers with your fingers.

Remember to use your napkin to wipe your fingers and dab the crumbs from your mouth. And, enjoy!

Until next time,

Jeanne

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