Who put the cheese course at the end of the meal?

Restaurants usually place the cheese service at the end of the meal with the dessert selections. Why? I like a nice cheese tasting with all the accoutrements, but by the time I finish eating my meal I rarely have room. How do you handle it? Have you ever circumvented the cheese protocol?

Cheese is my dessert, much of the time, so of course I prefer it after the main course.

I suspect the unfortunate claim to fame to answer the thread title may well be the Britons.

Much as our cuisine from the 19th and early 20th century followed France, we digress on the subject of cheese. The French (rightly so, in my opinion), serve cheese after the main course and before dessert whereas in British service, dessert precedes cheese. In fact, in traditional British service, you will have main course, dessert, cheese and savoury (the serving of a final “savoury” is probably why Britons generally refer to desserts as “sweets”. It’s odd, to my mind, as it leaves you having to pcik up your red wine again, just after you’ve eaten something sweet.

You will regularly see cheese as a separate course in France but it is now becoming uncommon to see it as such in the UK , where it now appears amongst the desserts.

Assuming there is a cheese course on a British menu, I will always want to have it before dessert, not after and will decline it on occasions where, as recently, the restaurant insisted on serving it after dessert in the national tradition. I have no problem with that (it is their place after all) but one thing does piss me off. And that’s when you have a three course fixed price menu, where cheese is included amongst the desserts - yet a supplement is charged if you have it in place of a sweet.


Thanks, John, for this nice little bit of culinary tradition and history…

Yet, in Spain, its rare to see cheese at the end of a meal and, in my experience, generally only in restaurants catering to tourists or where they are wanting to follow a more international tradition. You’re more likely to see it as a tapa in bars or, in those restaurants (also generallycatering to tourists) where tapas have now morphed into a “small plates” meal.

If you want a cheese plate at the beginning of your meal, I think it is perfectly OK to ask for it. At least in the US, we rarely scoff at extra cheese!

A true American would put the cheese plate on top of the entree.


I think that the reasoning is that cheese at the end of the meal helps with digestion.

A little of all of the above.

When living in France, the explanation was that the heavy fat content kills the appetite, thus no longer hungry for the main dish, and the fats coat the palate, so the subtleties of other flavours is diminished.

And yes, the beneficial bacteria and enzymes help to digest the meal.

In the region where we lived, cheese (with a small frisbee salad) was always before dessert, although many folk skip the sweet stuff.

We’re it not for the damned lactose intolerance I’d still prefer cheese after the main.

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We have a winner for typo of the day, and it’s not even noon.


In a French bistro I usually enjoy the Frisee Salad as a salad course. (Funny about the ‘frisbee’ salad.) Just a joke, Sunshine…
Now, take a party or a gathering: usually the hosts will offer cheeses of some sort as a nibbler. What happens to eating after?

Gets my vote for typo of the week.

One of my favourite meals is dinner in the restaurant of the Hotel de la Basilique in the small town of Albert (Department of the Somme). We usually go for the four course menu - starter, main , cheese and dessert.

As with the other courses, cheese leans heavily on “terroir” and most of the offerings on the trolley are local to the Somme and other northern departments, such as Nord and Pas de Calais. What I like about it, is your select your cheeses and the plate is then taken away to be dressed with a little salad of mixed leaves, with a very sharp, mustardy dressing. It may be my favourite cheese course anywhere.


And I can’t even take credit for it…blame autocorrect!

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My favourite cheese course is in Simpson’s, off Cornhill in The City. No choice, just Stilton. A whole Stilton is placed on the table with a spoon dug into the middle and you simply help yourself. It’s only taken away if another table wants some.

First of all, I’m not sure there’s anything to “handle,” and God knows I’ve never read or heard of anything called “The Cheese Protocol” before. (Sounds rather like a thriller by Robert Ludlum.)

Cheese “belongs” anywhere you want to put serve it. Some cheeses are perfect for service before the meal, as a part of the hors d’oeuvres or appetizer course, along with an assortment of salumi, nuts, dried fruits, etc.; others lend themselves beautifully to service after the meal, say with a fine Vintage Porto or Sauternes . . . also perhaps with, say, dried fruits or nuts. (Is there a “nut protocol” of which I am unaware, too? Damn, I need to get out more!)

So – to the point at hand – there are certainly times when we’ll serve a cheese plate (avec accoutrements) prior to sitting down to diner, and there are times when we’ll serve it following the entrée. It depends upon the cheese(s), it depends upon the wine(s) being served, and it depends upon the mood . . .


Hi Jason. I made up the term, but you are free to use it if you wish…

I wonder if the order has to do with the tradition of the the men remaining at the table for port and cigars whilst the women withdrew to the (with)drawing room. Cheese was seen as a good accompaniment for the port etc. to keep the men going.

Another interesting British quirk. White wine generally goes better with a lot of cheese and it can be quite a revelation to pair decent, full bodied whites with a good cheese board. A nice rounded Chardonnay works especially well.

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I’ve noticed a lot of casual and gastropub-style restaurants offer cheese and/or charcuterie as a starter course. I’ve always found that odd. I consider meat and cheese plates, and nuts and olives, to be more suitable for a cocktail party, or when having drinks at a bar, not for starting a meal. Americans are indeed strange at times.

Not everyone going to a gastropub is there for a full meal. Sometimes it’s just a beer and a snack or cocktail hour with a nibble before moving on to the next venue.

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
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