This year for Bruce’s birthday, we decided to have a party at home. Bruce said all he really wanted was to drink some really good wine & some yummy food and have some friends over. (Best sentiment ever!)
We had also recently watched the documentary “Somm,” and all of this sparked the idea for a Wine & Cheese Tasting Party.
The basic premise was that we would supply 4 or 5 bottles of wine, and 4 or 5 cheeses, and various accouterments. Then we asked all of our friends to bring a bottle of their favorite wine and/or a favorite type of cheese to share. (Any kind, any price!) We would all try all of them and enjoy!
You want to offer a wide selection, both in terms of flavor, and texture. A basic guideline is to offer one type of cheese from each textural category:
– Soft Cheese: Brie, Camembert, Feta, Goat cheese, Gorgonzola, etc.
– Hard Cheese: Asiago, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Manchego, Parmigiano, Aged Cheddar, etc.
– Semi-Soft Cheese: Havarti, Baby Swiss, Colby, Fontina, etc.
– Semi-Hard Cheese: Cheddar, Chesire, Gouda, Provolone, Roquefort, Sonoma Jack, etc.
We have a couple of favorites that we buy for ourselves in a regular basis. The star of any special dinner at our house is Humbolt Fog. It is actually a beautiful cheese on a plate, with a stripe of grey ash, and when served at room temperature, it is a smooth a butter and tastes like heaven! We also like fresh goat cheese, creamy camemberts, gritty goudas, and aged cheddars.
So we started out with that in mind and hit Whole Foods. We have a Whole Foods just around the corner from our house with a fantastic cheese counter. These guys really know their cheese and can offer great recommendations!
We also have an abundance of specialty wine shops in our neighborhood. Our favorite is Cork & Fork. We popped in, and he recommended 4 bottles to fit our party budget.
We decided to stick to reds, since that would allow the most direct ability to compare & contrast.
Them I went shopping for other party foods, and found a sale on Brut from Domaine Chandon! (An incredible vineyard in Napa that I visited once.) I knew it was GOOD stuff, and so I decided to get it for Bruce as a birthday surprise – a champagne toast.
Apart from a wide variety of crackers and baguette, if you really want to enjoy the cheeses, you need to offer some paired tastes that offset them. We went with:
– Salami (three different types)
– Fresh grapes (red & green and seedless)
– Organic Honey (to drizzle on the cheeses)
– Olive Tapenade (from Kalamata olives)
– Sun Dried Tomatoes
– Lemon curd (a risky choice – most folks would go with a marmalade of some sort – but it is really interesting in some combos)
The Finishing Touches
I got some card stock, and wrote up little cards identifying each cheese, food, and wine. For the wines, I got online, looked up their varietal, region, vineyard, and flavor notes. I think the flavor notes are the most helpful part because it allows you to really “look for” the tastes in each bottle – cherries, lavender, citrus, etc.
I also kept extra cards on hand, to quickly label guest’s choices and add them to the tables.
Finally I found these adorable (free) printable Cheese Cards from Real Simple, where guests could jot down their favorites to remember later.
I found a couple of articles helpful in planning this party:
WineMag.com: Wine & Cheese
Real Simple.com: Plan A Cheese Party
Real Simple.com: Hosting a Wine Party
Ask Men.com: Wine & Cheese Party Tips
The party was a great success. Everyone had a lot of fun and discovered new favorites. The whole vibe was actually very informal. We set up one table for the wine and one for the cheese. We allowed our friends to wander around, serve themselves, try things out in various combos, and enjoy themselves. Most of all, Bruce had a great birthday full of good wine, yummy food, and good friends!