If you love to entertain, but don’t love to cook, or you are the host with the most on a modest budget, a cheese and wine party is the fete for you. A cheese and wine party can be elegant and sophisticated, yet easy, fun and surprisingly affordable to host.
The ideal cheese and wine party is made up of six to ten guests who are open to new culinary adventures but aren’t necessarily food and wine snobs. The group should be large enough to keep things lively, but small enough to gather everyone around the table for conversation. After you’ve decided on the invitation list, rather than opt for the convenience of email, consider sending actual paper invitations in the mail. A handwritten note on elegant stationery will help set the tone for a special evening.
First on your shopping list? Cheese! Cheese comes in four basic categories: Soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard. Flavors range from mild, such as the soft and creamy Brie and Camembert, to intense blue cheeses like Roquefort. You may also want to include some of the pungent varieties such as Langres and Taleggio. Choose one cheese from each category, and plan for one or two ounces per person. There is no need to search for a specialty cheese shop. Even exotic cheeses can now be found in the supermarket, and shopping there will keep your costs down. If you do find yourself over budget, go easy on the pungent cheeses. A little bit goes a long way.
Second on your list? Wine! Select one wine to pair with each of your cheese choices, and buy two or three bottles of each. Sparkling wine pairs well with the mild, soft cheeses, and Chardonnay and Cabernet are excellent with semi-soft varieties. Your favorite medium bodied red table wine, or Pinot Noir will complement the hard, strong cheeses like aged cheddar and parmesan. When selecting wine for the most pungent of cheeses, remember that opposites attract: Sweet desert wines bring out the best in stinky cheese.
Good wine doesn’t need to be expensive. Look for wines that have been rated a “Best Buy” by recognized wine authorities. It is possible to find a seven-dollar bottle of wine that is rated as highly as one costing three times as much.
You will also need crackers and bread, to serve as palate cleansers, and traditional fruits like grapes, apples and pears. Stock some heartier fare like sausage for your guests with robust appetites, and dark chocolate for the inevitable sweet tooth.
Cheeses should be removed from the refrigerator to warm to room temperature. Group cheeses of similar textures and flavors on the same platter. Add sliced apples, pears and small bunches of grapes, and place the cheeses next to their wine partners. Use place cards to identify the name of each cheese. Provide your guests with notecards and pens to jot down their favorite of each. Encourage your guests to have fun and be adventurous.