These tips will help you host a memorable wine and cheese party.
- Visit a good cheese store several days ahead of time to get recommendations and to taste samples. Place your order a day ahead.
- Ask your wine merchant to suggest wines that will complement your cheese selections. For recommendations on wines to pair with specific cheeses, click on the link at right.
- Set up the cheese board and the rest of the food on the sideboard, kitchen table or island. Outfit the serving area with an assortment of antique knives, small plates and napkins.
- Create a separate area for the wines to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
- Write out the names of the cheeses and the wines being served on cards.
- For an easy dessert, serve coffee or Vin Santo with biscotti.
Assembling an Artisanal Cheese Board
To create an appealing cheese board, select a mix of types and textures (firm, semisoft, sheeps or goats milk, double- or triple-crème, blue-veined) and serve alongside a selection of breads.
To serve 8 people, plan on 2 lb. assorted cheeses (1/2 to 3/4 lb. each of 3 or 4 cheeses), selecting from:
Firm cheeses: Cheddar, Gruyère, Comté, Manchego, Cantal, fontina and Saint-Nectaire.
Semisoft cheeses: Muenster, Morbier, Bel Paese, Taleggio and Vacherin.
Double- or triple-crème cheeses: Saint-André, Reblochon, Pont lÉvêque, Livarot, Camembert, Brie and Boursault.
Blue-veined cheeses: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Bleu de Bresse, Cabrales and Fourme dAmbert.
Goats and sheeps milk cheeses: In the spring and summer, serve a fresh goat cheese; in the fall and winter, choose a medium-aged cheese such as Brebis Pyrénées, pecorino toscano or Humboldt Fog.
Also purchase 2 or 3 loaves of bread, such as a sourdough country loaf, a rustic walnut bread and a baguette. You can round out the presentation with thinly sliced fresh fruit, such as apples or pears; dried fruits, including figs, apricots and cranberries; and toasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and pecans. Jams, fruit preserves, chutneys, honey, and fig or quince paste all make excellent accompaniments.
Unwrap the individual cheeses and arrange them on a cheese board, marble slab or large platter. Cover the arrangement with a large domed bowl and let stand at cool room temperature for 4 to 6 hours. Include a spreader for each soft cheese and a sharp paring knife or cheese plane for hard cheeses.
At Thanksgiving, decorate the platter with grape or olive leaves. For Christmas or New Years, add a festive garnish, such as tiny red flowers or ornaments and green foliage, or an artfully curled silver or gold ribbon.
Storing Leftover Cheese
To store leftover cheese, wrap each piece in a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper, place in individual zippered plastic bags and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. To serve again, remove the cheeses from the plastic bags and protective paper. Arrange, cover with a bowl and let come to room temperature. For more tips on storing cheeses, click on the link at right.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Easy Entertaining, by George Dolese (Simon & Schuster, 2005).