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.
Although I'm not a cheese expert by any means, but I know what my family and friends like when I serve them so here goes:
Wegman's has a decent selection of cheeses--among them --"Milky Brie"..which is an extremely mild brie for those who do not care for a more strong, pungent brie. Caprice de Dieux is another mild cheese that kind of smells but tastes great. Actually, some really stinky cheeses are the ones that taste the best. There is one that looks kind of conical in shape and looks very moldy but when you cut into the rind it is so soft and buttery and mellow. Yum!
Chevre is another choice..St. Andre is delicious. There is another one that has mushrooms in it that is amazing, but I cannot remember the name. Mascarpone with fig spread always tastes good too!
As far as wine goes--I'm no sommelier, but a good red wine that smells like dirt is always the best tasting.
Serve the cheese with lots of fruit and good bread.
wines: 2 cases in all, or at least 16 bottles, for 25 people. Use smaller glasses if you want to use the smaller amount of wine.
cheese: 6 lbs in all
glasses: at least two per person, if you are expecting guests to try the various wines to pair with cheeses
napkins, lots of napkins
honey or honeycomb are particularly wonderful with blue cheeses or stronger goat cheeses
Costco: Saint Andre triple cream. Comes in a double pack.
Whole Foods: Cowgirl Creamery "Mt Tam." The Whole Foods cheese people are all generally very good. Ask them for suggestions.
In Oak Park, make a visit to The Marion Street Cheese Market http://marionstreetcheesemarket.com/
Once you try Mt Tam, you will be ruined for cheaper triple cream. The stuff is insanely good/posh/clean.
Get some interesting crackers/ honeys / and good breads. People like that stuff with their cheese. I like simple plain water crackers, and a hunk of crusty bread, nothing else.
Your question is open-ended. One could write a several page document trying to answer it. There are hundreds of cheeses and hundreds of wines to choose from. There is really no "must have," but rather an nearly infinite way to combine cheeses and wines. You've already gotten some very good suggestions in other posts, so I'll just add a couple of other things to consider:
You didn't say anything about a budget, so a basic issue is do you want decent cheeses that you can get at a place like Costco or are you aiming to serve excellent, but more expensive cheeses that you will find at a good cheese shop? The advantage to Costco, of course, is price. You get a lot of cheese for a modest amount of money. However, the selection is limited, the sizes are limited and the cheeses have all been prepacked in heavy plastic, no doubt well in advance of the date you purchase them. By way of contrast, a reputable cheese shop has a much broader selection, sells cheeses in top condition, makes suggestions to help you put together a cheese plate, lets you sample cheeses before you buy, cuts your cheese to order and wraps your cheese in cheese paper, which keeps it fresh. If you go the cheese shop route, don't buy your cheeses too far in advance of your party.
The best way to pair cheeses and wines is to make choices for one and then use those choices to make decisions about the other. I decide what cheeses I will have, then look for wines that go well with them, but you could do it the other way around. If you have have the time and can tell us what cheeses you bought or plan to buy, I'm sure that I and other CHs could make suggestions for the wines.
Think about your guests. Are they cheese lovers? Are they enthusiastic about tasting unfamiliar foods? If so, you can probably serve any type of cheese. If not, I would go lighter on goat cheese, blue cheese and washed-rind (stinky) cheese, which are the categories that conservative eaters are usually most reluctant to try. You don't necessarily have to avoid these categories entirely; you may just want to buy a smaller amount.
If you want to go for the finer cheeses, I wouldn't get them at Whole Foods. My two top choices in the Chicago area for cheese shops would be the Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park (already mentioned by another CH) and Pastoral Fine Cheese, which has three locations in Chicago. MSCM also sells wine, and their staff could help you pair wines with cheeses. I've been in one of Pastoral's three shops (the one in the Loop), but I can't remember if they also carry wine.
I would really take Maestro's cheese shop suggestions to heart. I know a lot of other posters are touting Trader Joe's but if you want something special - and if you're featuring cheese- head for the counters where they cut the wheels right there. The cheeses at TJ's have been cut weeks and months ago and cryo-vac'd. Freshly cut cheese is worth seeking and though it may cost a little more, you will taste the difference. If you can find something in its whole form at TJ's (like a 7-16oz round of cheese) or Costco, those are usually in fine form.
Good response, maestro! One party we hosted many decades ago in our first house had a cheesey comestible theme. We had cheeses from different sources in each room with appropriate beverages.
I don't recall all the details, but we wrote little verses for each variety explaining something about its origin or taste. I think they were arranged something like this:
* Italian firm cheese (Briscole al Barbera or Fiore di Sardo? and Parmesan) with Chianti and antipasto.
* German cheese: Emmenthaler & sausages ( I didn't know about Cambozola then, but I would include it now!) with a German beer (or you could use a Rhine wine instead)
* American cheese (Don't remember what we could get then, but now I would certainly include Humboldt Fog, Mt. Tam or Crater Lake Blue, and Vermont Shepherd Sheep Milk Chese) with a California Zinfandel.
* English (stilton, aged cheddar) with a wheat ale.
* French dessert cheeses (Brie, Brillat Savarin?) with Bordeaux wine.
If you have more rooms, I would be tempted to also include either
* Spain ( Valdeon, Manchego) with a Rioja wine
* Netherlands (Aged Gouda, Beemster Goat Cheese) with Oranje or Gin
Maybe one reason the details are hazy is that I sampled freely the cheese and wine in every room!
One thing I think is cool having wine, cheese and maybe an "accompaniment" all from the same region. So for instance I'd serve Chaource cheese with Champagne or a Comte cheese w sausage and wine both from the Franche-Comté region.