So, why did Geoffrey and I host a wine and cheese tasting party? Because bringing together friends and loved ones with good food has always been a goal for us. Plus, who doesn’t love another good excuse to be more sociable? A little wine & cheese party was the perfect occasion to gather some of our closest friends and ring in the new year with that target achieved. Not to mention, we are hoping to make these kinds of cheese and wine events a regular affair for us.
Hello my friends. Before I continue with the cheese and wine party details, first let me tell you this first party was the beginning of January 2017. We've seriously updated the information to better help you, and did what we could with the images. As most of you know, our photography skills have come a long way since then.
Also, for our vegetarian readers looking for vegetarian party snack recipes, see How to Build a Mediterranean Mezze Platter. For our vegan readers, we got you covered. Check out our Vegan Appetizer Board for tasty vegan snack ideas.
- Be Creative as the Wine & Cheese Party Host
- How to Select Cheeses for Tasting Parties
- Making Winning Wine Choices for Pairing
- Basic Guide to Wines and their Cheese Pairings
- 9 Common Wine and Cheese Party Pitfalls to Avoid
- Wine and Cheese Accompaniments
- Post-party Pairing Review by Station
- Related Charcuterie & Cheese Boards
Be Creative as the Wine & Cheese Party Host
I got inspired by some of the stunning charcuterie boards and cheese boards I saw on Pinterest, with designs ranging from the basic layouts to the busy and loaded arrangements. Even though I wanted to replicate some of those cheese boards, I also wanted to keep things simple. So, I decided to create five different stations, each one showcasing a unique, curated wine and cheese board, which was then paired well with the various food accompaniments we arranged around the stations.
Create your Tasting Table Design and Flow
There are a lot of cheese and wine table ideas out there, and for the design of our table, I wanted to stick to a rustic but chic motif. We tried to achieve this by placing the breads, toasts and crackers in separate bowls with a stonewashed linen napkin in earth and green tones. At the center of the table was a wooden tray with different preserves, fruit spreads, and tapenades. I like to keep the spreads in their original jars, not in separate bowls, so guests know what they are. Also, each jar came with a small wooden spoon to complement the look I was going for.
In order to make the wine and cheese tasting more interactive, we made only one rule that all of us should start the tasting from Station 1 and then work our way around the table to Station 5. For each station, the guests must taste the cheese with our matching wine, bread, and jams, fruit spread and tapenade suggestions.
After completing their first trip around all stations, people were free to roam around the table to mix and match wine and cheese pairings to their liking. The concept was for everyone to discover different flavor combinations. We observed that some people liked to keep moving around the stations. Meanwhile, there were also others who picked a favorite wine and cheese pairing and preferred to keep going back to that one station.
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How to Select Cheeses for Tasting Parties
When it comes to putting together a wine and cheese set-up, guests love it when you offer them a wide variety of wines and cheeses to choose from. This way, you give them a range of options, different taste experiences and plenty of delicious possibilities that they can savor and enjoy. When you pair cheese with wine, some combinations are universal, but people have different tastes and will appreciate not having to stick to strict rules.
5 Factors to Consider when Selecting and Buying Cheese
In order to create variety in your cheese selection, the following five factors should be considered:
- Country of origin - Offer cheeses that have been made from various locations.
- Texture - A well-curated wine and cheese plate has a mixture of creamy, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses.
- Affinage - This refers to how long the cheese has been “ripened.” Hence, the reason why fresh, aged and blue cheeses have their distinct characteristics.
- Type of milk - Cheese can be made from several dairy sources. For example, cow, goat or sheep’s milk.
- Flavor - There are different flavor profiles that you can offer your guests, ranging from the mild to the strong.
It may seem complicated and a little overwhelming to select the perfect cheeses for your big night. If you have any doubts or apprehension, just ask your local cheese monger, or the most knowledgeable person in that section of your supermarket.
For this wine and cheese tasting, we chose to serve cheeses that were made from Spain, Italy and France. We also made sure to give our guests a mixture of taste sensations in their mouth so we included one cheese for each of the textures we mentioned: creamy, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard. We also wanted to give our guests a medley of mild and strong cheeses with sophisticated flavors so we included aged varieties and blue cheese that were made from cow, goat and sheep milks.
Pro Tips for Serving Cheese
- Take cheeses stored in the fridge out an hour before the party starts. This allows the cheese to be close to room temperature when your guests arrive.
- Be aware of how long the cheese is out of the fridge. As part of your general party safety tips for cheese tasting, you should know that most hard cheeses can be out for up to 8 hours. However, soft cheeses should really only be at room temperature for 2-4 hours.
- If you will serve hard or semi-hard cheeses, cut a few slices or chunks off the block. This encourages your guests to feel more invited to start digging in and will give them a sign of how to eat the cheeses.
- You will want to have at least one cheese knife per block of cheese.
Making Winning Wine Choices for Pairing
We picked wines from the same countries of origin as our cheeses to complement our wine and cheese pairings.
Wine Tasting Guide
The wine tasting guide below greatly assisted me in selecting the Spanish and French wines we served at the party (although we included one California wine, it was made from French grapes). With this guide will help you select wines that fit your taste and event, pairing different types of wine with different food, the proper glass to serve the wine in, the different color shades of wine, as well as the wines' flavor and aroma.
Wine tasting is more than just sipping a glass of fermented grape juice. It's an art form that engages your senses and allows you to savor the complexity and character of this well-loved drink. To truly appreciate wine, experts recommend the 5 S’s approach, a tried and tested key to unlocking the secrets to choosing and enjoying wine like a seasoned connoisseur.
The 5 S's of Wine Tasting
Whether selecting a bottle for a special occasion or enjoying wine with friends, these steps will enrich your experience and open doors to the captivating world of wine tasting.
- See - Observe the wine's color, clarity, and viscosity. Clear wine indicates quality, and thicker "legs" suggest higher alcohol content.
- Swirl - Gently swirl the wine to release aromas and oxygenate it. This prepares it for the next steps.
- Smell - Inhale the wine's bouquet. Note fruity, secondary, and tertiary aromas. These scents reveal the wine's character.
- Sip - Take a small sip and let it coat your palate. Note its primary flavors, acidity, tannins (in reds), body, and alcohol content.
- Savor - Consider the finish's length, balance of components, and overall impression. A longer finish often signifies complexity.
Don’t worry if you start to get lost. Extensive knowledge, training, and experience are what make wine experts called sommeliers well-versed in all aspects of wine - so you don't have to be. Find one and ask them many questions… we sure did! We certainly didn’t choose the wines completely on our own :) He also helped us with the 9 wine pairing pitfalls to avoid below.
Basic Guide to Wines and their Cheese Pairings
When it comes to indulging in a sophisticated culinary journey, few combinations rival the timeless harmony of wine and cheese. The art of pairing these two delights can elevate your dining experience to new heights, unlocking a symphony of flavors and textures that make your palate sing. In this guide, we'll explore five exquisite wine and cheese pairings that are sure to delight your senses and leave you craving for more.
Red Wine and Soft Cheese
The rich, velvety notes of red wine find a perfect companion with creamy soft cheese. The robust flavors of a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot are beautifully complemented by the lusciousness of Brie or Camembert. The tannins in red wine are balanced by the buttery texture of these cheeses, creating a harmonious contrast that leaves your taste buds tingling with joy.
White Wine and Creamy Cheese
For a refined and delicate pairing, look no further than the pairing of white wine and creamy cheese. The crisp acidity of a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc perfectly offsets the richness of cheeses like triple-cream Boursault or Brillat-Savarin. The result? A tantalizing dance of flavors where the wine's citrusy and fruity notes find their ideal counterpart in the cheese's velvety creaminess.
Dry Wine and Semi-Soft Cheese
The earthy, nuanced tones of a dry wine, such as a Pinot Noir, find a perfect partner in semi-soft cheeses like Gouda or Havarti. The wine's subtlety allows the cheese's gentle tang and supple texture to shine through, creating a palate-pleasing combo that embodies the perfect balance between elegance and depth.
Spicy Wine and Semi-Hard Cheese
When you're craving a bolder experience, turn to the dynamic pairing of spicy wine and semi-hard cheese. Zinfandel or Shiraz, known for their peppery and spicy notes, pair exquisitely with cheeses like Manchego or Pecorino Romano. The wine's robustness stands up to the cheese's intensity, resulting in an explosion of flavors that excite your taste buds with every bite.
Sparkling or Fruity Wine and Hard Cheese
The effervescence of sparkling wine or the fruity essence of varieties like Rosé bring a sense of celebration to your palate. Pair these lively wines with aged hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Aged Gouda. The wine's refreshing qualities cut through the cheese's saltiness, while the cheese's texture adds a delightful crunch to the experience.
9 Common Wine and Cheese Party Pitfalls to Avoid
- Bell Peppers - Though Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc might exhibit intriguing green pepper notes (courtesy of pyrazines), most wines won't shine when paired with them.
- Challenging Vegetables - Their flavor profiles pose a great challenge when seeking wine companions. Top examples are tomatoes and asparagus.
- Very Spicy Foods - The goal is for the wine's finish to linger, not for the fiery sting of spices to dominate and overwhelm your palate. If you must have spicy food on the wine and cheese table, opt for extra sweet wines like Ports and Rieslings.
- White Chocolate - Sweet treats like white chocolates, caramels, etc., should be paired with wines of comparable sweetness, such as Ports or Sauternes.
- Overpowering Blue Cheeses - Fortified wines like Ports or sweeter reds are best for robust blue cheeses (Roquefort or Gorgonzola) that can easily overwhelm more delicate wines.
- Unripe or Overripe Fruits - Fresh fruits at their peak ripeness complement the wine's profile without dominating it.
- Highly Salty Cheeses - Salty cheeses like Feta or aged Parmesan might amplify the perception of bitterness in wines and mask their more delicate flavors. Create a balance through wines with a touch of sweetness or pronounced fruitiness.
- Misaligned Textures - Creamy, soft cheeses clash with the astringency of tannic red wines. Meanwhile, delicate wines are underwhelming with crumbly cheeses. Pick matching textures, such as a creamy Brie with a buttery Chardonnay.
- Ignoring Wine Temperature - Avoid serving wines too cold so their flavors and aromas are muted. Conversely, wines that are too warm might come across as overly alcoholic and lack freshness. Aim to serve whites slightly chilled and reds at a cool but not overly cold temperature.
Wine and Cheese Accompaniments
In addition to the wine and cheese, our tasting table wouldn’t be complete without some tasty accompaniments to enhance the flavor of the cheese and create a contrast between each station, as well as cleanse the palate after tasting each different cheese. These accompaniments are the bridge between cheeses. Here are our picks:
- Balsamic vinegar and olive oil for Parmigiano Reggiano
- Quince paste for Iberico cheese. Great pairing!!
- Black and green olives. Carlos marinated them with a smoked-flavor extra virgin olive oil from Spain
- Green and dark red grapes
- Nuts including pecans, walnuts, and almonds
- Fresh fruits like apples, pears, and strawberries
- Dried fruits like sour cherries and pitted dates
We also had a station of Spanish charcuterie from the producer Fermin Iberico, offering salami, chorizo, pork loin, and ham.
Post-party Pairing Review by Station
On the whole, our first time hosting a wine and cheese party was a success! In fact, we were so engrossed in all the fun that we weren’t able to take enough photos to document the event. Hence, we re-created the table the next day, replicating our beautiful arrangement as the evening before. Geoffrey and I also sat down after the photo shoot and thoughtfully tasted each cheese and wine pairing that we suggested along with the breads and condiments. (I know! It’s a tough job.)
Here is our review of what worked well and what didn't, tallying all the feedback from our friends.
Station 1: Hard Cheese
- Cheese Selection: 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano made from cow's milk.
- Recommended wine pairing: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sparkling wines. Our pick was Marques de Monistrol Brut Cava.
- Accompaniments that worked: Apricot Preserves is a good balance with this cheese. Kalamata Olive & Oregano Spread is perfect balance. Fig Preserves is delicious but slightly overpowering. Sourdough country style bread and French Baguette were the best breads for this cheese.
- Not a match: Caramelized Onion Spread. The Parmigiano flavor is stronger than the spread, so the spread gets drowned out.
Station 2: Soft Cheese
- Cheese Selection: Epoisses AOC, a smelly soft cheese with a very strong taste. (Geoffrey's favorite).
- Recommended wine pairings: For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Red Bordeaux and Pomerol, and Gewurztraminer; Chardonnay & Riesling for white wines. Our pick was Cloud Break Chardonnay from California.
- Accompaniments that worked: Strawberry Jam is a good balance and is a PERFECT match. Also, this is Geoffrey's favorite jam for this cheese. Sourdough country style bread and French Baguette were the best breads for this cheese.
- Not a match: The flavor of the Apricot Preserve gets lost with this cheese.
Station 3: Semi-soft Cheese
- Cheese Selection: Saint Nectaire Laitier, cow's milk cheese with a texture similar to Brie.
- Recommended wine pairings: Red wines: A red Burgundy or Pinot Noir, a fruit young Syrah from Rhone, a Chardonnay from Auvergne, dry or medium-dry (demi-sec) Chenin Blanc. Our pick was Pine Ridge Chanin Blanc-Viognier.
- Accompaniments that worked: Apricot Preserve is a good balance. Fig Preserves is Carlos’s favorite with this cheese. It works well together. French baguette was the best bread we served for this cheese.
Station 4: Semi-hard Cheese
- Cheese Selection: Iberico, aged for 3 months, made of cow, goat and sheep milk.
- Recommended wine pairings: Red wine: Medium or savored young red wine, Red Rioja. Our pick was Honoro Vera Garnacha.
- Accompaniments that worked: Best pairing was Kalamata Olive & Oregano Spread and Caramelized Onion Spread. Fig Preserves gave a nice balance and gave this cheese a slightly sweet flavor; a delightful taste. Walnut cranberry bread was the best pair for this cheese. This bread was a surprising HIT with our friends. A whole loaf of this bread didn't last too long on the table.
- Not a match: Geoffrey thinks the strawberry jam is too strong for this cheese. Meanwhile, for Carlos, it was a good match.
Station 5: Creamy Cheese
- Cheese Selection: Roquefort Papillon Black Label, a cow’s milk blue cheese from France.
- Recommended wine pairings: Sauternes or Muscat, Fortified wines: Tawny Port, Madeira, and sherry. Our pick was Cheval Quancard Premiere Cota from France.
- Accompaniments that worked: Fig Preserves has a very nice balance and is the best pairing with this cheese. Sourdough country style bread, walnut cranberry bread and French Baguette all worked well with this cheese.
- Not a match: This cheese is too strong for the apricot preserve, while Caramelized Onion Spread is too light for the cheese.
Altogether, by the end of our tasting process, our new goal was to have another tasting party on national wine and cheese day to find out what new combinations and matches we can create, and see if our friends love them too.
Until then, we put together some Charcuterie Board Ideas, which we highly recommend you check out as well, especially if you are looking into host a party in the future. Both a charcuterie board and a wine and cheese tasting are excellent interactive aspects of just about any celebration from a formal dinner party to game night, and everything in between like birthdays, holidays, house warming parties, date night, girls' night, and even a backyard picnic.
Have you had a wine and cheese party? We are certainly not experts and would love any feedback you have. So, share your ideas and comments below! You can also share your creations with us on social media by tagging @Spoonabilities on Instagram and on Pinterest, love, save and comment on this Pin.
Can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with!
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Related Charcuterie & Cheese Boards
Here are a few related recipe ideas you might enjoy: