You don’t have to be a sommelier, or own a yacht in the Bahamas to host a cheese pairing party. Cheese is a simple and failsafe food that’s easy to serve for any entertaining occasion. Simply select a handful of cheeses and offer a few accompaniments that complement the specific flavors; invite some good friends, and have fun.
Consider These 7 Things When Hosting a Cheese Pairing Party:
1. Variety –Aim for five or six different cheeses with a variety of “strength” of flavors (strong-flavored/strong smelling cheeses vs. milder cheeses).
- Intense Flavored Cheeses: Sharp Cheddar, smoked Gouda, Romano, Parmesan or blue cheese
- Mild Flavored Cheeses: Swiss, Havarti, Mozzarella
Mix up the textures too.
- Hard/Very Hard Cheeses: Parmesan, Romano, Cheddar, Colby, Colby-Jack, Edam, Gouda, Swiss
- Semi-Soft Cheeses: Baby Swiss, Brick, Havarti, Mozzarella, Provolone
- Soft Cheeses: Brie/Camembert, Ricotta
2. Temperature – For many cheeses, their flavors are most pronounced when they are served at room temperature. Take the cheeses out of the refrigerator approximately one hour before guests will be arriving to let them come to room temperature and max flavor.
3. Pair – The key to serving cheeses is pairing them with complementary flavors and textures so as not to overwhelm the flavors of the cheeses. Unsure about where to start? Use an online pairing tool. Simply choose your cheeses and you will be given the perfect pairing foods, wines or beers. Or choose a local or seasonal food and pair cheese varieties around it.
4. Presentation – Based on the variety of cheeses you choose, you may want to separate the strong-flavored cheeses from the milder ones, either on the same platter or on separate dishes/platters. Provide a different knife with each kind of cheese. And keep in mind, if you are presenting the cheeses as whole blocks or wedges, you’ll want to leave room around the cheeses so they can easily be cut with the knife. Be creative with your serving pieces. Try:
- A wooden cutting board
- Large platter
- Tile square
- Cake stand
- Wood slice serving board
- Or a collection of antique plates
Thrift stores can be a great place to find fun, creative and cost-effective serving pieces. For more ideas, browse Western Dairy Association’s Pinterest Board.
A don’t forget, labeling the cheese is equally as important. Try a chalkboard, cheese pins, or hanging a sign from a piece of fruit to label your varieties.
5. Add an Entree – Chances are your guests didn’t eat before coming to the party and likely won’t be full after a few small bites of cheese. Consider baking a separate entrée to sample in addition to the pairings. A creative flatbread or cheesy pasta dish made with one of your favorite cheese samples can be a party hit that helps keep your guests satisfied.
6. Competition – A party is always more fun when guests have a “say.” Provide voting or ballot cards with the list of cheeses offered and have them vote on their favorite cheese, favorite cheese-food pairing or favorite cheese-beverage pairing. If you have a really competitive group, challenge your friends to bring their own cheeses, the group can pick a winner. Looking for a challenge? Request a limiting factor like “cheese country of origin” or “pairs best with _____.”
7. Save – When the night is done and bellies are full, save the leftover cheese for a future recipe. Macaroni and Cheese, Lasagna, Grilled Cheese sandwiches or a favorite cheesy soup may be the perfect vehicle for cheese party scraps. The variety of flavors may add a nice spin to some of your favorite recipes.