Hot Topic: Wine and Cheese Pairings for the Holidays
Published on AskMen.com
You like to play host from time to time and have people over for a party or an event like the Super Bowl. The problem is that the time and effort you have to put in to organize the thing. Because you work hard and have a life, there are only so many hours in a day that you can devote to being an all-star host and gourmet.
This is where the wine and cheese party comes in. Despite the concept's ubiquity (the term "wine and cheese" is far too prevalent in our lexicon), people love a wine and cheese party. The truth is that hosting a good one is a lost art. Too much is spent on Triscuits, Cheez Whiz and Asti Spumanti, and not enough quality and attention goes to presentation. With a good wine and cheese party, there is ample opportunity to wow your guests without much work on your part. All you need to do is put some thought into the following:
Pairing wine and cheese
There is an apparent consensus on what wines pair well with what cheeses. The accord is not universal, however. Case in point: many "experts" cite that Gouda is best with a fruity white. Perhaps, but what variation of Gouda? With a smoky or spicy Gouda, for example, a better pairing would be a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet. It boils down to personal taste. To help channel you on your quest to the proper wine and cheese combinations, here is a general guide:
Here are the major types of cheeses to choose from for your party, with some examples of each.
Soft Cheese: Blue Castello, Boursin, Brie, Bucheron, buffalo mozzarella, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Limburger, Mascarpone, Muenster, Neufchatel, Pave Affinois, Teleme
Hard Cheese: Asiago, Blue, Derby, Edam, Emmentaler, Grana Padano, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Manchego, Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano, Raclette, Reggiano, Swiss, Wensleydale, Zamarano
Semi-Soft Cheese: Bel Paese, Baby Swiss, Colby, Fontina, Havarti, Kasseri, Madrigal Baby Swiss, Morbier, Port Salut
Semi-Hard Cheese: Cheddar, Chesire, Cotija, Danish Blue, Double Gloucester, Gouda, Graddost, Panela, Provolone, Roquefort, Sonoma Jack, Stilton
Here are the wines that from experience, and trial and error, complement an array of cheese types. Please note that yes, there are some wines that go with more than one type of cheese. This is because of cheese taste variation and complexity, as well as vintage distinction. For example, Beaujolais can stand in with a hard cheese like Emmenthal or a soft crumbly feta. So take this for what it is: a general guide. The ultimate decision is yours to make.
Soft Cheese: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Champagne, Cabernet, White Zinfandel, Vidal, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Chianti, Sancerre
Hard Cheese: Bardolino, Tawny Port, Madeira, Sherry, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Côtes du Rhône, Rioja, Cabernet, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Ribera del Duero, Chardonnay, Chianti Riserva, Beaujolais, Dark Beer, Sangria, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir
Semi-Soft Cheese: Chardonnay, Champagne, Riesling, Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Bordeaux, Rioja, Fleurie, Beaujolais, Chinon, Bourgueil
Semi-Hard Cheese: Chardonnay, Champagne, Riesling, Cabernet, Sancerre, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chianti Riserva, Barolo, Tawny Port
Now that you have ample wine and cheese choices, along with compatibility recommendations, the onus is on you to set a theme for the party, or not.
For example, you can go for a taste of Italy, and feature wines and cheeses from that country. Apart from the other obvious regional choices at your disposal, such as France, Spain or New Worlds like South Africa and Australia, your party can take on a non-geographic theme. You can provide people with a selection of hard cheeses or center the theme on the drink and feature dessert wines. The sky is the limit here.
Wine and cheese presentation
Presentation is quite important when it comes to a wine and cheese shindig. In fact, even more so than at a dinner party. The selections are sparse, in the sense that it is just cheese and wine (more on that in a bit). As a result, the attention is drawn toward the aesthetic. But from a functional standpoint, you have to pay attention to how you present the cheese. Here are some tips:
Less is more: Focus on no more than five cheeses. In fact, we suggest three (just make them good). Estimate about 4.5 ounces or 125 grams of cheese per person.
The stinky cheese factor: You may love a cheese with funk, but your guests may have a more timid palate. Tone it down, or up, based on who is set to appear. As a rule though, some variation in taste, appearance and texture is best. Contrast is good and sparks conversation.
The cheese board: Paper plates are not ideal for serving cheese. Invest in a platter made of wood or marble that is large enough to separate the cheeses. Make sure the color of the board is pleasant to the eye and can act as a contrast to your selections. Trust us, these touches make a difference.
Cheese rind: Leave it on! And eat it too. But please do remove the wrapper.
Your wine and cheese party is almost ready for the guests to show up...
Knives: Have one cheese knife per selection. Never mingle your cheese. You can use a butter knife for soft cheese and a sharp knife or slicer for firm cheese.
Temperature: This is very, very important. Cheese belongs in the fridge of course, but never serve it cold. Let it stand until it is at room temperature. The difference in taste is immense.
Place the cheese sporadically: Make stations in your home where people can gather to sample the cheese and wine. This way, your guests can mingle and walk about, rather than stand in one spot. This is the proper atmosphere to create for a wine and cheese. The flow of conversation is just as crucial as the cheddar and Chardonnay.
Wine and cheese party accompaniments
There is more to a wine and cheese party than just wine and cheese, of course. You need to entice your guests with some stellar accompaniments. Here are some suggestions:
Crackers: Good crackers, guys, not the crap your mother gave you for lunch.
Bread: See above. Not white bread, but a crusty, hearty, whole grain variety. Go to a bakery and grab whatever is most fresh. Just keep in mind that strong olive bread, for example, while fantastic, may detract from the cheeses.
Fruit: Sliced stone fruit like plums and nectarines look good, as do Japanese pear slices, grapes and apples.
Nuts: Walnuts are an excellent complement to many cheeses. Toast them and serve warm. Others that work well are pine nuts, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts.
Chocolate: There is one kind of chocolate to serve at a wine and cheese. Very strong, dark chocolate. Do not entertain any other variety.
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