The 4 Steps of Hosting the Ultimate Wine and Cheese Party
Whether you’re new to the neighborhood and want to meet your neighbors, have a birthday or other milestone to celebrate or just feel like having a party, it can be tough to decide what kind of party to have.
If you’re like most people, busy and on a budget, a wine and cheese party is a simple option. Many find the idea of wine and cheese parties daunting - pairing can be tough. Have no fear, though. Wine Turtle has broken down everything you need to know to throw the wine and cheese party everyone will be talking about for months.
Step 1: Understanding Cheese
Believe it or not, the focus of a wine and cheese party is actually the cheese and not the wine (or at least it is for planning purposes). All good wine and cheese parties start with the cheese and then go from there, it makes the process a lot easier. In order to properly select cheeses and the accompaniments (not only wine but food accompaniments), it’s important to understand a few basics.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Cheeses are typically classified in a variety of ways:
- Moisture level
- Region of origin
- Type of milk used
- Rind or mold (eg. blue or camembert)
The best wine and cheese parties show a variety of cheeses and show off how these pair with different wines.
There is no one system for classifying cheeses although every few years people have proposed it.
Classifications can be based on one factor or mixed. For our purposes, let’s look at moisture and rind/mold to plan the perfect party with a good variety. The best wine and cheese party will offer 3-5 cheeses from distinct categories.
Appearance: Pale and sometimes wet. Never rinded.
Flavor profile: From mild to tangy.
Examples: Cream cheese, mascarpone, and Buffalo mozzarella.
Notes: Best to buy and enjoy in the late summer/early fall.
Appearance: Pale, usually sold in blocks.
Flavor profile: Earthy and nutty.
Examples: Fontina and havarti.
Notes: Enriched versions of these cheeses will be creamier because milk or cream is added during the cheesemaking process.
Appearance: Whites and yellows, sometimes containing air bubbles.
Flavor profile: Stronger in flavor with distinct tang.
Examples: Cheddar (some), Gouda, and Edam.
Notes: Great for grating or including in cooking.
Appearance: Pale to medium-yellow.
Flavor profile: Strong in flavor with tang, salt, must
Examples: Parmesan, cheddar, and gruyerre (some).
Notes: Hard cheeses should never have mold in them.
Appearance: White or off-white.
Flavor profile: Mild to moderate in flavor
Examples: Brie and camembert.
Notes: These are the “bloomy” rind cheeses - mold is applied to the outside and the cheese ripens from the outside in - giving it the distinctly gooey middle found in bries. Cooking makes these cheeses lose flavor.
Washed Rind Cheese
Appearance: Colored rind, white/pale yellow cheese
Flavor profile: Mild, although their scent can be intense, earning these the category nickname of “STINKY”.
Examples: Muster or limburger
Notes: These are the brined cheeses. Whether briny water or liquor is used, the rind turns orange and develops good mold, giving them a colored rind. The rind is what gives off their distinctive odor while the cheese itself is mostly mild
Appearance: White with pockets or veins of colors ranging from light blue to blue/green to black/blue
Flavor profile: Strong, musty, and earthy.
Examples: Roquefort, and gorgonzola.
Notes: The blue streaks are actually the mold penicillium.
To start planning for your party, pick 3-5 cheeses using the categories above as a guideline. Your cheeses should have distinct colors, textures and tastes. If two cheeses appear in the same box, do not get one of each.
Other Considerations When Selecting Cheese
There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting cheeses. All cheese should be tasted at room temperature except for fresh cheeses, which should be tasted cold. Cheese should be stored in the fridge and removed a few hours prior to the party to ensure it is at room temperature.
Cheeses that are flavored make an interesting addition and also can significantly change the character of a cheese or wine. Stay away from processed cheeses always, but definitely do not break the rule to add flavor. If you are interested in checking out a different flavor, consider a smoked Gouda or cheddar.
Experts say raw cheese made from unpasteurized milk taste best. Depending on food laws where you live these may not be available but if you can find these they will take your wine and cheese party to the next level.
Step 2: Selecting Accompaniments
While cheese and wine on their own are a good thing, you’ll want to offer accompaniments with each cheese. This enables guests to see how various cheeses “work” as part of a larger dish - what complements the cheese? what does the cheese complement? - and allows guests to think about their own pairings.
The key is balance - a sweet cheese balanced with a tart cherry offers delicious contrast. A pungent cheese can be tamed to deliciousness with a smear of fruit preserves. Here are the best accompaniments for various cheeses. If you are interested in having a cheese not on our list at your party, just find a similar one and use the same, or similar, accompaniments.
|Blue||strong and pungent||candied||blackberries - the jammy lightness cuts the fat of the cheese perfectly||a sweet cracker, like one made of oat||Honey|
|Chevre||mild to light tang||toasted pine nuts or pecan||berries like black or raspberry||a light cracker like a water cracker, sourdough bread||moderately spiced peppers like piquillo|
|Manchego||strong||walnuts, marcona almonds||apples, grapes||baguette, toasted or freshly baked.||quince paste is always served with manchego in Spain, rosemary|
|Gouda||sweet, fruityThe more aged the Gouda the more fruity||salted or even lightly spiced||pear or green apple||wheat crackers that are salted, whole wheat bread rounds||baked squash|
|Parmesan||salty, nutty, hints of fruit and slight sweetness||pecans - stay mild since parmesan is nutty already||fig or pear||baguette||balsamic vinegar, hard sausage, sweet mustard|
|Cheddar||salty and sharp (varying levels)||cranberry||a light cracker like a water cracker||horseradish, beets, radish|
Step 3: Pick the Wines
Like food accompaniments, wine accompaniments should balance the wine. Heavier cheeses pair well with lighter bodied wines, heavy flavors with crisp acidity. A good rule of thumb is that mild cheeses pair well with medium to heavily bodied reds and stronger cheeses pair well with crisp, light whites. Here are our favorite pairings for the cheeses we’ve already highlighted.
Pair with: Generally with robust reds or sweet dessert wines. You can also pair with a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc for a slightly different approach.
Why? The inherent "sweetness" of the robust reds balance with the saltiness of the cheese. With regard to the Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, they provide balance to the richness of the cheese. The crisp acidity of these wines bring out the best flavors, tame others, and never overwhelm the palate.
Pair with: Champagne, Chardonnay, Riesling, or Pinot Noir
Why? The younger the cheese, the lighter the wine so as not to overwhelm the palate. As the Chevre is aged you can go up to a Pinot Noir. Chevre changes considerably based on age.
Pair with: Cava or Tempranillo
Why? The Spanish cheese is made in the same region that produces the most Spanish wine - so keep it in the family. Cava is a sparkling wine that is made like Champagne. Tempranillo is a delicious red that perfectly complements the cheese, likely due to shared terroir. If you try a rosemary manchego, consider pairing with a malbec or pinot noir to bring out the earthy flavor of the herb.
Pair with: Semi-sweet or semi-dry Rieslings
Why? The low acid content and semi-sweetness brings out the best flavor in the Dutch cheese.
Pair with: Prosecco or Nebbiolo
Why? Despite being very different, both of these wines are sharp and cut the heaviness of the cheese. Prosecco rounds out the flavor of the cheese. Nebbiolo’s sweet, heavy fruit overtones, and high acid and tannins match beautifully with the tang.
Pair with: Rose, Bordeaux or Pinot Noir
Why? If you follow our advice and serve it with cranberries, pair with rose. For standard cheddars go with the red options to bring out the sharpness and the spicy ends.
Step 4: Putting It Together and Pulling It Off
- Plan on serving 2-4 ounces of cheese per guest, and 8 bottles of wine for 12 guests. Don’t have more than 12 guests, it can get unmanageable
- Remove the red wine and cheese from the fridge 2-3 hours before of the party to allow both to warm up. All cheeses but soft should be served room temperature
- Use slate or metal cheese boards to display cheeses, their accompaniments, appropriate utensils and pairing suggestions. Include a card at each station with the following recommendation: Taste the cheese on its own, then with wine, then with the accompaniments - watch as the flavors meld and pair perfectly
- Set of stations with the various cheeses rather than have a central place. This will allow guests to mix and mingle and also not feel rushed when tasting
- If you serve chocolate it should only be high quality and very dark
You’re now armed with what you need to throw the best wine and cheese party your friends have seen. What cheeses would you select, what would you serve with them? What are your favorite wine and cheese pairings you’ve had at other parties.