Politics and religion are two things that should be avoided as part of polite dinner party conversation, etiquette books decree. However, there’s a third subject that continues to divide diners: when to serve cheese.
Britain’s new favourite TV grandmother, Mary Berry, has ignited the debate. The Great British Bake Off host has revealed that she prefers to serve cheese à la française: before dessert.
The practice has become popular in recent decades. Whether this is as a result of an increasing acknowledgement of Britain’s European identity – in some circles, at least – or whether it is simply that switching from savoury to sweet and then back again goes against all reason is open to debate.
Maybe it’s based on the assumption that almost any French gastronomic tradition is likely to be more palatable than any British one.
However, many British homes continue to follow a more Victorian approach and serve it after dessert. For many, this then becomes the most relaxed course of the entire meal.
It can argued, too, that serving the cheeses at this point allows you open a bottle of port – a fortified wine that became popular in Britain in the 1700s while the country was at war with France.
My partner and I are divided on the issue of when to serve cheese. My partner likes to serve dessert after cheese, while, despite my francophilia, I have to admit that I like to serve the cheese course last.
For me, this gives guests the opportunity to kick back and debate weighty matters… Politics or religion, anyone?