A Look Back: Hosting a Wine & Cheese Party

Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher Angie Spitalieri Ianiro, Publisher

One of my favorite things to do as the fall season starts is enjoy delicious cheese and a wonderful glass of wine. Even in the current environment we live in, a wine and cheese party with family or close friends can still be a fun event. You can even make it virtual! Please enjoy this article written by Maria Miceli for our September 2014 issue of La Gazzetta Italiana.

With the summer winding down and the weather getting cooler, it is time to move the party indoors. If you’re looking for a great excuse to get a group together, why not host a wine and cheese party? This type of gathering is fun, inexpensive and delicious. You don’t have to be a foodie or a sommelier to have a great time sampling a variety of different wine and cheese offerings. 

One reason wine and cheese are so often paired together is that the astringent component in the wine returns balance to a person's palate after eating something like cheese, which contains a good amount of fat. The wine essentially cleanses the palate after the cheese has been eaten so that the taster's next bite of a different variety of cheese can be fully experienced. The taste experience is exciting, and a great way to share an entertaining evening with friends.

The biggest question when planning an event of this kind is which wines and which cheeses should you serve? While there are no real rules to pairing wine and cheese, some varieties of cheese taste better with certain types of wine. Below are a few pointers to help get you started:

There are four basic categories of cheese: Fresh (Soft, non-aged cheeses which are often spreadable), Bleu (Very salty cheeses with veins of blue running through them), Hard (Most are aged and salty, and sometimes sharp), and Bloomy (A soft rind is common, as is creaminess). Fresh cheeses, such as Goat, Burrata, Feta, and Fresh Mozzarella go well with white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chenin Blanc. The sweet whites, Riesling and Sauternes pair well with Bleu cheese, as does a rich red Port. Hard, sharp cheeses, Asiago, Gouda and Parmesan, taste great when accompanied by a smooth red wine such as Chianti, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, the lightest of the lights pair well with bloomy cheeses. Try Champagne with Camembert cheese or Chardonnay with Brie. You will not be disappointed!

Plan to serve at least one cheese from each category above along with an accompanying wine. If your friends are the helpful type, ask them to bring a pairing of their own to the party. Make sure to give them a category of cheese so that you do not wind up with a lot of duplicates.  You can also give your party a theme based on a particular country or region. Italian wines and cheeses are always a good choice! 

In addition to the wine and cheese, you’ll want to provide a variety of breads, crackers, fruits, olives, nuts, and condiments. Fruit ideas include red or green grapes, figs, sliced apples, or pears. As far as olives, you can often purchase mixed gourmet olives from your grocer's deli buffet. Great choices for nuts include almonds, walnuts or pecans. For condiments, try a spicy mustard, your favorite chutney or a high-quality jam. A very large wooden cutting board makes a great serving tray for the cheeses, crackers and other accoutrements.

It is also useful to provide toothpicks as well as a pitcher of water for guests to clean out their wine glasses in between tasting the different types of wines. Be sure to label all of your cheeses, because your friends will certainly all want to know what they are eating!

If you are really into wine and cheese tasting, it can be fun to hand out paper and pencils at the beginning of the party so that everyone can take notes. Many times, people enjoy jotting down the nuances of each particular wine and cheese and describing how they taste together, so that later on they can compare notes and discuss the event in detail or recreate a palatable combination for a future get together.

The most important aspect of this or any party, however, is having a great time and enjoying the experience. Hosting your own wine and cheese party is a great way to learn about wines and familiarize yourself with different cheeses. Sampling fine wines and delicious cheeses all evening makes for some wonderful memories!