Your friends are on their way, the main meal is simmering, the tracklist and board games are waiting to be played and the wine bottles are prepped for popping. There's just one thing missing...where's dessert?
As is so often the case, cheese comes promptly to the rescue. Contrary to common American practice, dessert doesn't always have to be a diabetic sugarblast of syrupy sweetness, nor does it require the lengthy preparation of an elaborate cake, pudding or pie. The French, along with other European cultures, often whip out a cheese board after the main meal is over, partly as a means of settling the stomach, but mostly because they know that cheese is downright delicious any time of day. While Americans are less keen on the idea, the practice is gaining traction on this side of the Atlantic, with many restaurants offering a post-meal cheese board as an alternative to other desserts. Whatever your feelings on the matter, there's no denying that cheese is an inherently sociable food, and it makes sense to let guests cursorily nibble at fromage and crackers while the night wears on, something you can't do as easily with regular desserts (especially the melting variety). Many cheeses also pair excellently with after-dinner drinks such as brandy and sherry.
But with all the thousands of cheeses to choose from, which ones are best suited to dessert? The good news is that virtually any fine cheese will do. Why, even notoriously stinky Epoisses or firm and savory Parmigiano Reggiano can become their own kind of pudding, so long as they're presented the right way.
But if that makes for an overwhelming array to choose from, try out some of our favorites below, ranging from gooey chevres to luscious triple-cremes, from pungent blues to rich and buttery burratas. We recommend serving a plate of around 2 or 3 of the following options, giving guests the chance to switch between different tastes and textures. Remember to also accompany each cheese with its own pairings, or at the very least, some honey (which can turn practically any cheese into dessert).
1. Brillat Savarin with Papaya
If you still can't stomach the idea of a savory-tasting dessert, there are some absolutely wonderful sweet, creamy cheeses you can serve. Perhaps the finest is Brillat Savarin. Named after one of the earliest food writers and gastronomers, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, this soft triple-creme is so creamy it could easily be mistaken for cheesecake. Paired with sweet fresh fruit it becomes a true queen of dessert cheeses, and with our Brillat Savarin with Papaya the work is already done for you: sweet chunks of tropical papaya contrast with the enveloping creaminess of the buttermilk-rich cheese to make this one of our favorite cheeses of all time. And that's saying something!
Order Brillat Savarin with Papaya here
Pair with: pecans and other crunchy nuts to contrast with the creaminess of the cheese.
See also: For those averse to papaya (do such people exist?), try the "plain" (it's anything but) version, Brillat Savarin Affine.
2. Bonne Bouche
Goat cheeses are ideal for dessert platters. Creamy in texture and lower in fat than their cow milk brethren, they possess a tangy, yogurt-like quality that rounds off a meal just as well as any conventional dessert. Take an ultra gooey variety like Bonne Bouche and you're really onto something special. From Vermont Creamery - arguably America's kingpin of goat cheese - this French-style chevre is ripened with ash, acquiring a coral-like rind and floral, citrusy profile. Presented in a quaint wooden box that acts as "micro-cave" to keep it fresh, Bonne Bouche turns runny at room temperature, practically oozing out of its rind. So yes, best paired with nuts, fruits and breads...but also perfect on its own, scooped out with a spoon...a very "good mouthful" indeed!
Order Bonne Bouche here
Pair with: sweet-tart raspberries, a drizzly chunk of honeycomb and your favorite rose. Chocolate almonds also won't go amiss.
See also: other great chevres like Bucherondin, Caprifeuille Saint Maure and Crottin Maitre Seguin.
3. Danish Blue Cheese
A pungent, blue-veined cheese like Danablu - or Danish Blue, as it's more commonly known - may not be the first thing that comes to mind when dinner is finished and the dessert cravings kick in. In fact, at the risk of completely turning you off altogether, it has an aroma somewhere between rancid milk and good ol' fashioned vomit. But wait, don't grab your coat just yet. Instead, get a good schmear of this stuff on the tip of your spoon, add a gentle dollop of something sweet (fig spread's a personal fave, but honey, cherry sauce, pear or apple slices will also work) and add an optional walnut or pecan for that welcome crunchiness. Consume in one mouthful, and let the strong, salty-spicy umami of the blue cheese melt on your tongue, absorbing the sweetness of the other ingredients, as a delicious euphoria of flavors is unleashed upon the tastebuds, and tell me this isn't the best dessert you never knew you needed.
Order Danish Blue Cheese here
Pair with: sweet dessert wine, sweet fruity sauce, basically anything sweet. Even caramel (trust us, it works).
See also: other classic blues like Stilton, Cambozola and Bleu D'Auvergne.
4. Old Dutch Master Gouda
Gouda is one of those cheeses that presents itself in many different guises. The taste and texture of a young, four-week Gouda will be vastly different to a fine, aged cheese like Old Dutch Master Gouda, for example. Matured for forty weeks, this award-winning cheese accumulates crunchy, crystalline chunks and a butterscotch nuttiness that makes it prime material for an after-meal cheese board.
Order Old Dutch Master Gouda here
Pair with: sliced apple and a sprinkle of sugar, along with a glass of port or fortified wine.
See also: other hard yet caramel-hinted cheeses like Mimolette.
As mozzarella's more seductive cousin, Burrata is a traditional Italian cheese often served as an appetizer, but is equally well-suited to the dessert plate. Essentially a purse of mozzarella encasing creamy stracciatella and cream that gush out upon the slice of a knife, this buttery treat reaches a culinary crescendo with the addition of peach slices, strawberries, blueberries and other fruits. Forget cheesecakes, chocolate puddings or gateaux...this is what the drool-worthiest dreams are made of..
Order Fresh Burrata here
Pair with: peach slices and other sweet fruits
See also: Mozzarella Di Bufala In Water, a porcelain-smooth mozzarella that makes for an excellent dessert in its own right.
Traditional melting cheeses like Comte are revered for their versatility in the kitchen, as ideal for snacks and sandwiches as they are for melting into souffles and French onion soups. What's more, this rich, cow's milk cheese can even be enjoyed as a dessert, particularly when paired with fruits such as strawberry or fig, with which its buttery, nutty flavor contrasts perfectly. Better still, try it grated over caramelized bananas for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Order Comte here
Pair with: Chardonnay, Riesling or French cider, along with aforementioned strawberries, figs and caramelized bananas.
See also: Gruyere and other great mountain cheeses like Appenzeller and Emmenthal.