Looking for the easiest party plan? Why not host a cheese tasting or a wine and cheese pairing party the next time you want to have friends over? It is simple, delicious and guests will have the opportunity to try something new! You can provide all of the wine and cheeses or you can ask your friends to bring their own favorite.
A wine and cheese tasting can serve as both food and entertainment. Guests will love discussing what wine pairs best with what cheese, debating the best wine for the price, and you will all love finding new favorites for your next get together. Try a mix of old favorites with new finds for both the wine and the cheese offerings.
The cheese aisle has become so large and there are so many different options, selecting a cheese can be as intimidating as selecting a bottle of wine. Since both wine and cheese can be expensive, and because there are so many options, I think there is some fear of making a mistake. We’ve all gotten that bottle home and been disappointed. With cheese, some stores (like Whole Foods) have experienced help to guide you and many will let you sample before making a purchase. For a “tasting”—which means sampling, I will have five different cheeses to try, depending on the size of the crowd which will often include:
1-Sheep’s milk cheese
1-Goat’s milk cheese
1-Cow’s milk cheese
1-Soft cheese like Brie
1-Bleu, Roquefort, Stilton, Camembert or other “smelly” cheese
The following are some of my tried and true parings:
Manchego/Spain This hard sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha, Spain is always my first choice. Everyone loves it and it pairs nicely with Spanish almonds, olives, Serrano ham, or chorizo. Serve with a Spanish red wine like a tempranillo or tempranillo blend. Osbourne Solaz is very good and very affordable, usually under $10 a bottle. Another nice option is Atteca at around $15 per bottle.
Goat Cheese/ Belle Chevre / Elkmont, Alabama I always serve goat cheese prepared in a recipe on my cheese board. Goat cheese with chopped toasted pecans is about as easy as it gets. Serve it in Belgian endive leaves; your guests will rave. Other serving options are pears, honey, and wild mushrooms but you can serve goat cheese with almost anything. Pinot Noir pairs well with ripe or aged goat cheese. Try the Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir for about $12 or the Wild Horse Pinot Noir for about $18. More goat cheese recipes are available from Belle Chevre.
Parmigiano Reggiano/ Italy Most people think this famous cow’s milk cheese is just for cooking or grated over pasta, but it is wonderful alone or with crusty bread, dipped in good balsamic vinegar, and with olives. It has a complex nutty flavor and dense, slightly grainy texture. I could almost eat my weight in it. Slightly salty, it pairs well with Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. Try Riondo, about $11 per bottle or serve with a medium bodied Italian red, like Chianti. Try Ruffino’s Chianti Classico Aziano (around $12.99)
Saint Andre/ France This semi-soft, smooth triple cream cow’s milk cheese is also on every single cheese board I present. Very rich and creamy with a soft, buttery, almost spreadable texture, this cheese is best served with a fresh baguette and pear or apple slices. Sometimes, I serve it with fruit in place of a dessert course. Pair it with a sparkling wine or Champagne. Get the Krug if you have no budget; otherwise try Antech Blanquette de Limoux Grande Reserve, around $15.
Bleu D’Auvergne/France Bleu cheese is strong in both taste and aroma. From the D’Auvergne region in the South of France, this bleu cow’s milk cheese features a deep blue veining throughout, like most bleu cheeses but possesses a creamier texture and softer taste than many other bleu cheeses. Sauternes or other sweet wines, like Muscat or Riesling pair nicely with bleu cheese. Try Torbreck the Bothie Muscat, around $16.99.
Make sure to have plenty of nibbles and small bites since guests will be sampling multiple wines. Presentation is everything for a wine and cheese party. A gorgeous selection of ripe fruit, crackers, French baguette, and other accompaniments look as good as they taste when they are artfully presented. Ask if the wine counter will give you the top of a wooden wine crate. Use it to serve your cheese board. Guests will love this unique idea, and you’ll love the price: free! You’ll want your guests to really taste and enjoy the wine, so use crystal wine glasses. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your patterns if you don’t have enough of one type.
Because I always get calls after the party from someone asking for the name of “that cheese I loved” as they stand in front of the counter at the grocery store, I provide guests with a list as they are leaving. Try this party the next time you quick solution for entertaining. Your guests will love it.