If you are a cheese lover, there is no better pairing than wine and cheese. I love to have friends over and entertain – especially in the summer when dining alfresco is an option. The only problem is, I tend to get carried away with impulse purchases and spend way more money at the grocery store than is even necessary. The solution? Host a wine and cheese party.
Before you get into the nitty gritty of menu planning, decide whom to invite and how you’ll spread the word. I’m a fan of Paperless Post, or designing your own card using a service like PicMonkey and distributing via email. Once you have the party planning logistics in place, then you can focus on the important things.
Keep budget in check by shopping online for delicious cheese and accompaniments using Instacart and ask your friends to bring a bottle to share. Instacart is an online grocery delivery service that lets you order everything you need online or from your mobile phone and a personal shopper delivers them in as little as an hour.
Choose Your Cheese
To keep costs down, don’t worry about serving a grandiose 4-course dinner. People generally fill up on cheese and crackers anyway, so why not make it the main event? Decide whether you’ll stick to a cheese theme, like French cheese, cow’s milk cheese, or cheese from Wisconsin or if you’ll just buy a variety and create a simple cheese plate.
According to Real Simple, one of my longtime favorite magazines and resources for simplifying, there are five basic cheese types that you can mix and match on your cheese platter.
Blue, like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton, is the most intense. Semifirm cheese, including Manchego, aged Cheddar and fontina, are subtle but rich. Super-aged cheese, from Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago to Gouda and Gruyère are sharp and nutty. Pungent cheeses, also known as stinky cheeses, include Taleggio and some lesser known varieties like Èpoisses, Langres, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque. Mild cheeses, my favorite cheese group, are often soft and creamy, found in fresh chèvre, Brie, Camembert and Robiola.
You can make your party spread as elaborate or as fancy as you’d like, but if you want to stick to simple, start with crackers or bread. Pick up a couple of boxes of your favorite crackers and depending on the size of your party, 1-2 baguettes. I like to do one plain/sourdough baguette and one raisin-walnut or pretzel baguette for a little variety. Slice them into rounds, brush with olive oil and toast them for a super simple and tasty crostini.
I also like to serve fruit with cheese, a few clusters of grapes, sliced pears or figs or even some dried apricots and or peaches. Alongside the fresh or dried fruit, I usually do at least one sweet and one savory chutney, like mango, quince or tomato.
If you want to step things up a notch, add some slices salami, chorizo or assemble your favorite cured meats into a classic charcuterie display. My favorite way to serve charcuterie is to make a charcuterie plate like an Italian chef, selecting a nice variety of cheeses and meats for noshing.
What Can I Bring?
The question every party guest (should) ask at some point in the planning process. Ask all of your guest to bring a bottle of their favorite red, white or bubbly.
If anyone asks you for specific direction on their wine purchase, suggest wines with high acidity, like a Torrontés from Argentina or a smooth, dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. If you prefer reds, opt for a Sangiovese or a robust California Syrah.
You can mix and match different cheeses with your friends’ favorite varietals and save your own preferred pairings for next time. The best thing about wine? You don’t need to know how to taste wine like a master sommelier in order to enjoy a glass of your favorite red or white.