Essentials for a wine and cheese party
If you were having a wine and cheese party, what are the must haves? I want specifics....names of cheeses and names of wines. I am not really familiar with alot and I realize that it all comes down to personal preferences, but I am just curious what you all think I should include. Thanks! Lets say the party is for about 25 people.
My ideal cheese plate:
humboldt fog (CA goat w/ ash in the middle and bloomy rind)
St Andre or Delice de Bourgogne (triple cream)
a blue - I love the creamy French blues (names escaping me right now, my favorite is made in a big log - bleu de basque maybe), but have recently been enjoying a smoked blue from I think Oregon (smokehouse blue). Stilton is always a good option for blue, too.
Something firmer and sharper, like an aged gouda (3+years), petite basque, oussou-iraty, manchego, etc., maybe something with sheep milk in the mix.
Eppoisses, taleggio, or another stinky washed rind cheese.
You want a variety of ages, textures, milks, and countries of origin.
Accompaniments: fresh & dried fruits, chutneys/mostardas, nuts, honey, bread, crackers.
Wine - there is one theory that says light fruity whites go best with cheese, in which case a riesling or gewurtztraminer would be best. In practice, a few reds and a few whites make sure there is something for everyone. Pinot noir, merlot or a blend, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and you can't go wrong with bubbles. Wines vary so much from year to year and region to region that it might be best for you to talk to someone at a local wine store, who can find something that fits your budget and palate. Just buying any random pinot is a crapshoot.
re: babette feasts
Thanks so much for your response! I will definitely include some of your choices. Where can I get them? I live in the north burbs of Chicago. I am told Whole Foods has a great selection of cheese. What about Costco? WHere else? I am planning on going to Binny's for the wine.
Well I don't know Chicago, but I'd say go to Costco first, I bet they will have at least a triple cream, and maybe something in the firmer or blue category, so see what you can get a good deal on first, then fill in the gaps at WF. Whole Foods does usually have a great cheese counter, and they will often give samples. Their prices on cheese are actually pretty good, compared to other stores in my area (Seattle).
If you aren't familiar with cheeses, I hope you understand what you're getting yourself into from a cost perspective. Fancy cheeses cost a lot more per person than decent wine. Think $20-30/lb, and you'll need quite a few pounds to feed 25 people, particularly if the theme of the gathering is cheese.
Make sure to get people filled up on grapes, pears, crackers, quince or fig paste, and honey along with the cheese, or you'll have to skip a mortgage payment to do this party right.
This is true, but most people won't eat more than 1/4 pound of cheese at a time, but could easily drink a bottle of wine over the course of the evening. Getting a few cheeses at Costco will help. 5 pounds of cheese would mean 3.2 ounces per person if everyone shows and eats.
There is also nothing wrong with getting a few logs of chevre at Costco and dressing them up by rolling in black pepper or fennel seed or lavender, nuts, etc. That would help balance out the pricier cheeses. And starting with the more expensive wines and moving on to the more 'everyday' wines as the evening progresses and palates get fatigued.
I was just at TJ's to buy appies for tonight. I am always amazed at how inexpensive their cheeses are...in fact, most of their offerings. They have a large selection and I think you will find many interesting options. I bought three different cheeses for tonight, a honey chevre - a gruyere - and a brie. Simple cheese for my family (different tastes) but I am certain you can find what you need for your purposes. They also have wonderful accompaniments (sp?). Take a walk around the store or ask someone. The staff are very helpful. Good luck and have fun!
I try to focus on one region or even one type of milk (goat, sheep, cow), and then get 3-5 cheeses from fresh and soft and creamy to dry and aged. I also look for a range from mild to sharp. At a store with a cheese counter, the workers are often very good at putting together a variety. A typical mix I have served is a fresh goat (often served in a log) such as Laura Chenel, a mild, semi firm sheep, such as petite basque (often available at Costco), a cheddar, and a blue. With this mix, the blue could be creamy and spreadable, or very crumbly, and then I would make the cheddar sharper or milder as a contrast. From these basics, I would add (and/or) a soft cheese such as brie or a triple cream; a slightly aged goat that is still creamy; more semihard cheese. we have a great collection of local cheeses that I would tend to gravitate towards. If you get some cheese at Costco, then go to some chi-chi store in Chicago for what is local and available.
Personally, I think Whole Foods is your best bet for quality cheeses unless you have a small, independent cheese shop nearby. WF has a nice cheese counter with a variety of price ranges and you can sample them to get an idea of what you like. Babette is correct on quantity - 3 oz total per person should be plenty for a wine/cheese party. I wouldn't do more than 5 different cheeses to avoid overwhelming your guests palates and like wine, start with mild and finish with stronger flavored options.
A couple of my favorite combos:
Triple Cream: St Angel, Brillat Savarin or Cremeux de Bourgogne paired with a dry sparkling wine.
Ossau Iraty is a good sheep's milk cheese that should pair well with a variety of whites - a Chardonnay or Pinot Gris might be a good option. If you can find Abbaye de Belloc, it's my favorite French sheep's milk cheese and I love it with a buttery Chardonnay. Might be hard to find that cheese though.
Hard: Grana Padano (milder and nuttier than Parm-Reg) paired with Pinot Noir (hard to recommend a specific Pinot not knowing what's available in your area). If you can find Barely Buzzed, a lavender and espresso rubbed cheddar from Beehive Cheese in Utah, it can also pair surprisingly well with a sturdier Pinot Noir.
Vella Dry Jack- another hard cheese on the saltier side - is nice with heavier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. Sartori's Bella Vitano soaked in Merlot is another fun heavy red partner.
Blue Cheeses are great to round out the tasting with a dessert wine. Port is my favorite with blues but a Sauternes is also nice. If you can find Sunset Bay - a goat milk cheese from Oregon with a layer of smoked paprika running through the middle - it also is tasty with a white dessert wine.
If no other food involved this will be the meal so figure about 4 ounces per person, thus 6 lbs. l would get three cheeses and do them twice as the first batch gets very hacked up.
After three or four with wine it all gets a bit muddy. Serve them each on their own plate with a larger knife than you would think. If a round whole cheese, for example, make a few cuts to show how it should be cut, thus no lopping off the front, very bad form.
Also three wines to match the cheeses, then they can try the 'wrong' wine with a cheese to see the comparison. Use real glasses but you can fudge on the plates if desired. Use crackers rather than bread as much easier and prettier, get a cracker assortment, buy for some reason Wheat Thins work very well. Also use dried fruits and nuts as well as strong dark honey as an accompaniment.
Here are some possibilities for low end cheeses and high end depending on your budget. You want to have a cow, goat, sheep, a soft , medium, hard, a mild, medium, assertive. Wiggle around however you wish. Here is a possible grouping, Goat- As mentioned Humboldt Fog, or Laura Chenel logs, the latter available at Costco. Sheep- Basque products as Ossau-Iraty or Petit-Basque as well as Roquefort, preferably Carles ,Vieux Berger, G Coulet, or Papillon. There are so many choices for the cow you can easily fill in the strength and texture you need to fill in your choices. Some might be a one kilo brie, a very aged gruyere, or an assertive like L'Edel de Cleron or even an Old Amsterdam type. The idea of an Epoisses sounds good but may not be accepted by a 'new to cheese' group.
If you wish it, place a very assertive as the Epoisses, Maroilles, Liverot, or many others on a separate table so the timid are not turned off.
Also the stronger the cheese, the sweeter a wine matches it. Thus the goat can go with a Moscato d'Asti, the sheep can go with a big zinfandel, and the cow can go with Pineau de Charantes. There are zillions of possibilities and none are really wrong, thus do have fun.
Deluca - Wheat Thins?!! Really?! They are great if you're serving, say, cream cheese with onion jam dumped over the top but the sweetness interferes with the flavor of a good cheese. A plain (not sourdough) baguette mixed with some neutral crackers - Croccantini, 34 Degrees, Bremner wafers and maybe a few nut/cheese crackers like Dahlia's or Raincoast Crisps wouldn't affect the flavor of the cheese being paired. Better yet, skip the cracker all together and just eat the cheese on its own- use the cracker as a "palate cleanser".
I love your suggestion to do 3 cheeses but divide each portion so that you can put out a fresh piece after the others are hacked up. Hadn't thought of doing that before. Also making suggestive cuts in the cheeses is a great idea- my husband always cuts the nose off the wedge even when I've "started" it for us. While it makes me crazy, no one else ever notices.
I don't think anyone's mentioned to make sure your cheeses are at room temperature for best flavor - that will make a big difference.