From beer and brats, Champagne and strawberries to coffee and doughnuts, the subject of pairing libations is endless. But is there anything more classic than pairing wine and cheese? Partly because of cultural history, wine and cheese have been paired together for centuries. There’s an old adage, “What grows together, goes together,” and this statement reflects the regional explanation behind the pairing. So while the French made the combo standard, this doesn’t mean we all can’t master the idea of perfectly pairing two of the world’s most adored fermentations.
As a certified sommelier and owner of local wine consulting firm, Amusée, I plan wine and cheese events almost on a nightly basis for my clients. So I’ll share a few favorite wine and cheese party planning tips so that hosting your next wine and cheese party with friends will be a snap!
While personal taste is key in planning any party or wine tasting, there are a few basic tips for making your occasion a success. Start by making your tasting party an event. Send stylized, “cheese-like” invitations focused on the subject at hand and add a few cute party accoutrements to fit the occasion. Cooks of Crocus Hill is one of my favorite places to shop for tasting party goodies. They have a plethora of adorable plates, napkins, cheese knives, and cheese boards/slates for laying out your cheeses, and little stand-up cheese signs for naming your selections, not to mention every shape of wine glass for making your party perfect.
Tip: Select cheeses that include all three main milks: goat, sheep and cow. And try to keep it global. Select cheeses from around the world to add interest.
Rustic wheels like this are always great. They tend to be savory, with some great chicken stock notes.
Presentation: Show these bad boys off with some salami like Fra’Mani Soppressata or Red Table salbando grande. Add some pickled ramps, whole-grain mustard and crusty bread to really give out that American Gothic farmhouse vibe. Don’t bother slicing these in uniform shapes; just crumble away. The way the curd is formed from the cheddaring process makes it easy to break apart.
People go nuts over this triple crème Brie. Seriously, always buy more than you think you’ll need. People gouge into this guy.
Presentation: If you’ve got a whole wheel, which is never a bad idea, peel the top rind off and put some berries on top. If you serve this with jam or other sweet things, people will go nuts!
Abbaye de Belloc
This traditional farmhouse, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese is mildly “sheepy” and buttery, creating a very smooth texture that almost everyone will love.
Presentation: Lay this one out and cut very much like the Comte.
Brabander Goat Gouda
Sweet, caramel-y with a hint of lactic goat milk hiding underneath.
Presentation: We personally love to crumble this one on cheese boards with a little pair of tongs. The snowy white color is beautiful when broken down in this rustic style. You may also use the rind as part of the presentation if crumbling—just lay it on its side and place the pieces inside of the rind, which will act as a kind of container. Wonderful with some roasted nuts.
Colston Bassett Stilton
A fruity, salty blue great for a crowd that is 50/50 about blue. This one is bold. It has this great buttermilk feel that can still be inviting to the unsure.
Presentation: This is another great cheese to crumble; sometimes, if you end up with a large piece, break down only half of the piece so that it looks like the pieces are cascading down like a waterfall. Figs, crocks of honeys/jams, fresh herbs, or apple slices are great accoutrements. Sweet things tend to cut the intensity of the flavor.
Marcel Petite Comte
This is a favorite! It’s subtle, yet has a presence that is welcome on any cheese board. It is fruity and well-rounded, with a long finish.
Presentation: Cut off the back rind and the bottom rind, keep the rind with the label (mainly because it is pretty). Slice the piece in rectangles or triangles, again keeping the rind piece in the back so that people have something to hold onto. Try this one with something a little salty like Tamworth prosciutto from Iowa.
Remember, what grows together, goes together. For example, pair a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain with a wine from Spain. If you can get even deeper from a regional standpoint like aged Pecorino from Piedmont with a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, you’ll do even better knowing that the two were made and grown in the same region.
Building Your Cheese Board
*Select an odd number of cheeses. This seems to work better when putting together a board that is pleasing to the eye.
*Don’t be afraid to let your guests cut their own pieces of cheese. If you’ve got larger pieces of a pound or more, feel free to give each piece its own board with maybe one accoutrement, for example, English cheddar with cornichons or Stilton with figs. Sometimes minimalism works.
*Sliced meats/charcuterie, jams, honeys, fruits, nuts, pickled things, etc. add color.
*Always let your cheeses come to room temperature. For soft cheeses, sometimes it works best to put them on a board cold and then allow them to warm up. Otherwise, the cheese could end up too mushy to move later.
*If you are putting out your pieces of cheese whole, just be sure to have a wedge or knife that folks can use.
*For purchasing just the right amount of cheese for your pairing party, consider approximately 2 to 4 ounces of cheese per person. This is a good amount if you’re planning to have other cheeseboard goodies like nuts, meats, pickles, etc.
*Never wrap your cheese in plastic. If you plan to have your guests leave with cheese or store it yourself, it’s best to wrap your cheese in parchment or wax paper. This allows the cheese to breathe. Just pop it into your crisper drawer for best storage.
Selecting the right wines and cheeses is important to ensure a proper combination of regional selections, flavors and profiles. I like to provide a good selection of light to medium to full-bodied wines in the spectrum of grapes. Start by choosing wines that are not only stylistically different from one another, but also are from different regions. It's best to select between five and seven wines for sampling at your party. (In general, plan to et approximately six pours per bottle for a tasting with this many varieties.)
Wine Selections by Category
White wines: Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio, Grüner Veltliner, and Verdejo or sparkling wines like Cava or Prosecco.
Red wines: Pinot noir, Sangiovese, Gamay, Zweigelt (from Austria), and Grenache or pick a rosé from a region like Lambrusco.
White wines: Albariño, Chenin blanc, Viognier, Gewürztraminer and sometimes Riesling (as it can really trend between light- and medium-bodied). Or if you need a sweetie, try a Moscato (medium-bodied). It’s a great way to end a tasting.
Red wines: Merlot, malbec, syrah, Carménère, Montepulciano and Tempranillo.
White wine: Chardonnay or Marsanne.
Red wines: Cabernet, shiraz (which is the same grape as syrah, but from Australia and South Africa which produces a bolder style), Zinfandel (which can waver from medium- to full-bodied), nebbiolo and petite sirah.
Sample wine flights include something from each category
Flight #1: Cava, German Riesling, California chardonnay, Oregon pinot noir, Italian Montepulciano, Australian shiraz.
Flight #2: Italian lambrusco, Alsatian Gewürztraminer, Spanish albariño, a Burgundian chardonnay, an Austrian Zweigelt, Washington merlot and California cabernet.
Flight #3: Austrian Grüner Veltliner, French viognier, Oregon chardonnay, French gamay, Australian grenache, Washington syrah and California petite sirah. Want to add a sparkly sweet to this flight? Try an Italian moscato for pairing up at the end.
Is there a secret weapon when it comes to pairing wines with cheese? You bet: Gewürztraminer. It is the most cheese-friendly wine in the world, combining with salty, sweet, bold and aged cheeses perfectly. And pinot noir is really one of the most pairable red grapes on the scale in this department.
Why these flights work:
When pairing different wines with cheese, I generally want a sparkling variety that cuts cheeses like goat, a creamy Brie or thick blue and can stick to the palate. Add a dry wine that can also cut through a saltier or sticky cheese like goat. Include an easy drinker variety like Gewürztraminer/Riesling or pinot noir to go with most everything and a medium-bodied wine like malbec that will also work for most every palate. Finally, a full-bodied red or a sticky-sweet white like moscato are great for pairing with bolder cheese flavors.
So there you have it, straight from a crew that loves wine and cheese more than anything. The world’s most classic pairing wrapped up in one easy bundle. Now you and your friends can enjoy these two goodies side by side at your next perfectly paired event.