The number one thing the pandemic taught us? To embrace any and all excuses to celebrate.
Rather than squirrel away "special" ingredients –say a bottle of vintage bubbles, hard-to-find extra virgin olive oil, or that cheese with a cult following–we now serve them on a whim.
It's the culinary equivalent of carpe diem, and for entertaining, it means digging into seasonal flavors via a fall cheese and wine party.
We're working with our friends at California Grown and California Wines to bring you a California edition cheese and wine party. We're sharing cheese serving pointers, styling tips, and wine pairings so you can best bring the flavors of California to your home.
How Much Cheese To Serve
We've previously shared these cheese board styling and serving tips, but let's talk about how much cheese to serve for a wine and cheese party.
In this case, the cheese is the meal, so plan to serve more than if it were part of a more extensive menu. Plan to serve three to eight cheeses and a few accompaniments that pair with each cheese. Account for 1 to 2 ounces of each type of cheese per person for an average of 8 to 10 ounces of cheese per person.
Essential Cheese Serving Tips
Now a few notes about serving cheese. Bring the cheese out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to serve it for the best flavor.
Consider the type of cheeses and how they are best served; as in, is it best cut, sliced, or crumbled? Serve soft cheeses like Brie with a knife so guests can help themselves; slice medium-firm cheeses like young Manchego; and break hard aged cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano into chunks.
Provide a knife for each cheese, so guests don't mix flavors across the board. Serve the cheese with about two-thirds sliced off (as we've done in the photos here); this helps guests can both easily eat and identify the cheese.
Cheese Board Arranging Tips
If you're doing individual cheese plates or a larger cheese board, always start with the cheese. Place the cheese down first, then arrange complimentary ingredients (from crackers to charcuterie to fresh or dried fruit or preserves) nearby.
For a cheese and wine party, remember to clarify which wine goes with each cheese. You can do a maximalist cheeseboard like the one we've styled here or split each cheese and its respective accompanying flavors onto a set of smaller plates.
Crafting A Seasonal Cheese Board
One of the saddest things that happen to cheese boards is when they're generic and season-less. It's a shame because a cheese board is a great way to embrace seasonality.
Bring out the raspberries and fresh goat cheese in Spring, marinated tomatoes and fresh ricotta in Summer, and pomegranates and persimmons in the Fall.
For a California-themed fall cheese board, hone in on fruit like pomegranates, persimmons, pears, and apples. Next, layer in some dried fruit, be it prunes, figs, or dates, and a mix of nuts like pistachios, almonds, and walnuts.
Cheese And Wine Pairing
She encourages you first to think about how you're going to serve the cheese and wine. As in, will it be one wine per cheese? A larger cheese board with one wine to pair with them all? Or are you serving cheese for dessert?
If it's one cheese per wine, go ahead down to our cheese and wine pairings below to see some of her recommendations. If you're doing one larger cheese board with one wine, Amanda recommends a fresh, fruity, gently oaked white like this Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc. Here are her other pointers:
- Most Cheese Wants White Wine: According to McCrossin, about "75% of cheeses are going to want white wine." When you're serving an assortment of cheese, she suggests going for something more neutral (as in unoaked and not overly aromatic), with a touch of acidity and not much richness (think a cleaner Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Gris).
- Sparkling Wine Is Always A Good Bet: Many kinds of cheese are salty, fatty, and a bit acidic, which means a clean, sparkling wine will be able to cut through all that and elevate the flavors.
- As Is A Lighter Bodied, Low Tannin Red: A lighter-bodied, lower tannin wine is preferable if you desire a red wine. Doing a Cabernet that's incredibly heavy in tannin will overwhelm your cheeses, so your best bets are Pinot Noir, Grenache, and a lighter Cabernet Franc.
- Match The Color Of The Wine And Cheese: In other words, a lighter, whiter cheese will go well with a light-colored wine like that Sauvignon Blanc. A gouda with a yellow tinge will go with a more golden-colored wine like a Chardonnay.
- Blue Cheeses Love Sweet Wine: A study in contrasts, the salty tang of blue cheese is a perfect match with Port. You could also go toward a red wine, so grab your Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, or even a more mellow Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Few Must-Try California Cheese And Wine Combinations
California knows a thing or two about cheese as it's been made in the Golden State for more than 200 years. Today we have more than 50 cheesemakers producing more than 250 styles of cheese, so there's a lot to explore when you travel to California.
There is even a Cheese Trail Map that you can use, so you know you are in the presence of cheese whenever you are in California!
Here are a few must-try California kinds of cheese that are right at home on a cheeseboard. We're sharing these in the order we think you should eat them (as in mildest to fullest flavored) along with a few flavor combinations we adore:
- Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam This triple cream, bloomy rind cow's milk cheese is one of the most beloved cheeses in the Golden State. It's buttery, creamy, grassy, and slightly tangy and is delicious with salted crackers and fresh Fuyu persimmons. Serve it with sparkling white wine, a California Chardonnay, or a lighter red like Pinot Noir or Grenache.
- Stuyt Farmstead Diamond Reserve, The Diamond Reserve, is a raw milk cheese aged over nine months, giving plenty of crystals texture. Serve it with dried orchard fruit and perhaps some prosciutto and pair it with a white wine that has a little more weight, like a Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. The overall flavor embodies a rich caramel taste with butterscotch notes.
- Fiscalini Farmstead San Joaquin Gold Next, we have the award-winning Fiscalini Farmstead San Joaquin Gold. It is an Italian-style cheese with a natural thin rind and a buttery tawny color. This cheese was made over 100 years and had a buttery color, a mild sweetness, and nutty flavors. Serve it topped with a drizzle of honey, a few chopped pistachios, and some mandarin or orange zest. Because it's aged, it's a natural with a vintage sparkling like the Roederer Estate L'Ermitage 2013.
- Point Reyes Blue This sweet, fresh milk blue cheese has a medium pungency and is fabulous with fig jam and walnuts or almonds. Blue cheeses love to be paired with sweet wine (see above), but you can also pair it with a red wine like the Caladan Cabernet Franc that has savory elements and is richer than Cabernet Francs from the Loire.
Okay, that's a lot to digest (pun fully intended). Now try your hand at a fall cheese and wine party, and let us know how it goes by tagging @saltandwind and #swsociety on social!
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