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Cheese pairings for a sweet wine tasting party

We're throwing a fairly last minute wine tasting party this weekend, and I was hoping to get a quick heads up from Chowhounders about cheese deals (on specific cheeses) that you all could recommend. I'm looking to buy: blue, cheddar, some ripe cow's and sheep's milk cheeses, maybe some drier cheeses.

So here's the deal. I'd like to know if you all have seen any great in + outs at places like Costco, Grocery Outlet, TJ's. I'd like to get some larger pieces at any of these locations, and then supplement with smaller quantities of more esoteric cheeses from Cheeseboard.

I'm relatively new to Costco, and not very familiar with their cheese selection. Almost never buy cheese at Trader Joe's either.

While we're at it, any recommendations for good quality crackers from any of these retailers that you might have spied recently, would be welcome.

Thanks so much!

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  1. Costco carries Pt. Reyes blue. In addition, they usually have an aged gouda, a manchego, a P'tit Basque and a soft-ripened triple cream cheese of some kind. Any combination of those will anchor a cheese plate very nicely. You might even consider the parmagiano reggiano stravecchio, which can be dynamite on a cheese plate (and what's leftover will serve you very nicely for a while).

    As for crackers, I like the plain pita crackers at TJ's, which are tastier than water crackers but otherwise fairly neutral. The Breton crackers are good as well. Grocery Outlet often has nice crackers, but as you know you can never count on any particular item being in stock.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        The new SSF Grocery Outlet has several varieties of Quely Tapas crackers from Spain (Mallorca specifically). They are made with olive oil, taste is similar to water crackers, but they are thicker, like little pillows.

      2. Aged gouda, at least 2 years. Trust me on this, aged gouda with sweet wines is the best thing you'll put in your mouth all year.

        1. I've done exactly what you're doing for a friend's wedding, and it required three trips. I looked around Costco for what looked good, tasted them at Cheeseboard along with some more expensive ones, and then returned to Costco to purchase what they had a better deal on.

          How many people is this for?

          If it's in, the Delice De Bourgogne at Costco is a very good triple cream, and I think they have it at a more expensive rate in Trader Joe's. You're not going to get a better deal on Pt. Reyes blue than at Costco.

          The manchego I bought at Costco in the past (2 years ago?) was too young for my liking.

          3 Replies
          1. re: hyperbowler

            This post makes me sad for retailers like the Cheeseboard, that offer samples and service, only to have "customers" taste, sample, make the decisions, then go off and purchase them at Costco.

            Has the original OP thought about Rainbow Grocery Co-op?

            1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

              Yowch, that's a fair point. You're right-- the Cheeseboard isn't a charity for the customer, and no one should sample there if they don't intend to make it worth their while business-wise.

              However, if the customer is committed to spending lots of money there on expensive cheeses from small producers, I don't see it as too harmful to sample some cheeses from larger producers as a comparison.

              I'll add that in many cases, it's more economical to just get smaller sizes of cheese from Cheeseboard. Yes, you might save $2/lb at Costco for a specific cheese, but you'll wind up losing money whenever you purchase a larger quantity than you can consume.

              1. re: hyperbowler

                Generally I've been happy with the cheeses purchased from Costco over the Christmas holidays, but this year, two of the items were really subpar and a waste of money. Not just underripe, but dead, damaged goods. That wouldn't happen at the Cheeseboard.

          2. I found a favorable comment on TJ's White Stilton with Apricots and Port. Costco also carried that cheese but I haven't seen it lately and off course the wedge is twice the size. Port and blue Stilton is a classic.

            2 Replies
            1. re: wolfe

              >I found a favorable comment on TJ's
              >White Stilton with Apricots and Port.
              Mr. Wolfe,

              Since it sounds like your just passing on some info,
              I hope you wont be offended if I chime in to add "That cheese is
              disgusting; I threw it away.".

              The GOAT CHEESE WITH APRICOT BITS from Cheeseboard is AWESOME, but
              it is rather expensive ... $6 for a small lump? (I was hoping the Costco option was remotely comparable at a Friend Price ... but it just sucked).

              1. re: psb

                I have served the TJ. white stilton many times at my work cheese tastings, to chefs and chefs in training without a single complaint. My comment was that I found a favorable review of the pairing. We don';t do wine at work. I haven't tried the Costco equivalent because it was too much, sizewise, and I guess that's the one you didn't like.

            2. Made the trip to Costco yesterday - picked up a Gouda, the Parmigiano (looks fantastic), an aged English Cheddar, an Alouette Truffle Brie (inexpensive, so we'll see how it goes), and, well, the cheap Kirkland Made in Wisconsin Blue. The reason for the last is because I didn't want to shell out $$ for that huge amount of Pt. Reyes Blue and then have a bunch of it left over to be thrown out. All the other semi- expensive cheeses are hard, so we'll get some mileage out of leftovers.

              Of course, today I deeply regret my cheap-assedness. Anyone tried the Kirkland blue? Shall I run out and buy some Stilton/Cashel/Rocquefort?

              Also, today is my Cheeseboard pilgrimage. Any recommendations for a puddingy, ripe goat cheese?

              6 Replies
              1. re: mielemaiale

                take the kirkland blue back and exchange it for the pt Reyes

                1. re: mielemaiale

                  Cheeseboard always has world-class blues in great shape.

                  Goat cheese with a puddingy texture is rare, it tends to go from chalky to runny in ten minutes. Humboldt Fog is hard to beat if you can find a ripe one. I got about a kilo for free once from Whole Foods, didn't see any in the case, asked, they gave me this huge "overripe" piece they had pulled to throw out.

                    1. re: mielemaiale

                      Not really fond of Pt. Reyes blue as an "eating" cheese. It's best use is for salads or to make blue cheese dressing where the light flavors can shine. If you're pairing with a dessert wine, pick something else.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        The good news is that if ripe PRB is awesome.
                        The bad news is l have not seen a ripe one in many years

                      2. re: mielemaiale

                        Cheeseboard usually has blue d'auvergne for $12-$13/lb.

                      3. Thank you to all for your helpful advice. The party was a hit–5+ hours of sitting around the table with the afternoon sun streaming through. We ended up supplementing our Costco loot with an Epoisses, and a deliciously ripe, melty goat that I can't remember the name of. The accompaniments made the party, I think - balsamic gelatina, saba, apple chutney, honeycomb, and then all the fruit and nut accompaniments. The Kirkland blue turned out to be really, really nice. Probably wouldn't have taken first prize in a blue vertical tasting, but without any competition, did a really nice job, and got lots of compliments. I did not exactly advertise its provenance, admittedly. By the way, the inexpensive (under $7) large wheel of Alouette truffle brie was perfectly acceptable and highly recommended at the price for an everyday truffled cheese.

                        4 Replies
                          1. re: wolfe

                            We had a pretty good selection - a few really nice Kabinetts, a 2007 Tokaji, a 2002 Sauternes, a Beumes-De-Venise, an Anderson Valley Muscat, and an odd, syrupy Australian Muscat.

                            1. re: mielemaiale

                              2007 Tokaji, how many putanyos may I ask?

                        1. Ok, well it is too late for this, but I was just in Madison, WI the week after the World Champion Cheese contest held there, and the big news was that a Dutch gouda won (a gouda!?). Perhaps for your next party you could serve championship cheeses, if you can find them.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: MagicMarkR

                            I wonder what "technical" cheese competition means? I'm skeptical that it has anything to do with taste, considering the winner was a reduced fat cheese.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Some kind of point system. They have 82 different categories, the winner was first in its category and then had the highest point score among the category winners, 98.73 vs. 98.55 for the runner-up. Here's a blog post from one of the judges:


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Yes, I saw they have a point system. But what are the criteria for a "technical" competition? It sounds sort of like a dog show, with best of breed, then best of group, then best of show. Maybe it's judged the same way, i.e. how close it comes to some pre-determined set of standards.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Right. There are all sorts of standard definitions for various kinds of cheeses, and professional cheese graders to enforce them.


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I'm not sure what the "technical" means -I had a similar question myself. I think it refers to what category they are placed in. It is like a dog show, for sure. Also, I think that how much weight one puts on the ranking has to depend on the category, i.e. who showed up for the contest. It is not surprising to see lots of Scandinavian cheese competing alongside a lot of WI cheeses, given the Scandinavian connection WI has culturally to that part of Europe. On the other hand, when Bel Gioioso wins for best Parmesan and another WI cheesemaker wins for best Camambert, well, they may be good cheeses, but some key potential participants were missing.