Wine and cheese make for a classic culinary pair, the sophisticated duo you want at every stylish party. To properly throw a wine-and-cheese event, however, you'll need a bit more than a few well-chosen vintages, a corkscrew and a slate board. Your cheese and other food offerings should complement each other as well as the wine. You have a wide range of choice within those parameters.
A simple cheese plate will offer three to five cheeses, preferably made from different milks and aged using a variety of methods:
- Firm or semi-firm cheese such as aged gruyere or cheddar
- Soft, spreadable cheese such as chevre, crottin or burrata
- Hard aged cheese such as Parmesan
- Washed-rind cheese such as Pont l'Eveque or Taleggio
- Blue cheese such as Maytag, Stilton or gorgonzola
Don't get too rigid about any particular formula; follow your palate. Match the region of the cheese to the wine and vice versa, pairing Italian bottles with a wedge of Parmesan or a French vintage with a selection of mountain cheeses.
Bread and plain crackers act as palate cleansers between bites of cheese and sips of wine. You need only a thinly sliced baguette or two, and true cheese aficionados often eschew anything else. Your guests may prefer to have a small selection of crispy crackers as well. Choose water crackers or gourmet flatbreads. Use simple flavors to keep the focus on the cheese and wine.
Nuts complement cheese well and don't compete with the complex flavors of wine, making them a good addition to a wine-and-cheese party table. No need for a fancy mix or additional flavors; roasted and salted almonds and pistachios are sufficient, although candied walnuts can be a nice accompaniment to mild cheeses.
Fresh fruit selections also enhance a wine-and-cheese spread. Grapes, cherries and berries can be offered whole; otherwise, slice the fruit beforehand. Avoid overly acidic fruit such as pineapple; instead, choose sliced melon, figs, peaches and nectarines, apples and pears. Dried fruit such as raisins, dried cherries and dried apricots also work well at a wine-and-cheese party.
Offering a selection of cured meats is an option at a wine-and-cheese party, but definitely a delicious one. As with the cheeses, don't go overboard in your selections; stick to two to four meats such as thinly sliced prosciutto and slices or chunks of salami.
The sweet-and-sour character of prepared chutneys help balance the richness of certain cheeses, so offer one or two on the side if you like. Slices of quince paste, also known as membrillo, are a traditional accompaniment to Spanish cheeses in particular but pair well with a wide variety of mild semi-firm cheeses. For another easy but decadent offering, place a large piece of honeycomb on the table. Honey pairs well with blue cheeses and soft goat cheese.