Whether for a book club, dinner party or just a fun gathering, wine and cheese is a classy and delightful offering to bring to the table. The rich flavors and sophisticated presentation let your friends feel decadent, and make you look like a stellar host. You don’t need to be an expert connoisseur of wines or cheeses in order to make this appetizer a success. The key is to keep everything simple with a clean presentation, a boutique selection, strong pairing choices and the right serving amount.
If you go to a tapas bar and order a wine and cheese sampling, you’ll immediate notice that their presentation is basic and unadorned. There will be a few cheeses and garnishes, arranged on a simple wooden board. This is a good thing to replicate. Cheese is rich and decadent in itself. Offsetting it with a simple, rustic presentation helps create a sense of balance.
That sense of balance is key to giving people the right impression. If you set out fancy silver dishes that are crammed full of lavish and expensive cheeses, you give the impression of overwhelming richness and density, ultimately spoiling the fun simplicity of the affair. You want to aim for classy, not tacky.
When it comes to wine and cheese presentation, get back to basics. Arrange everything on a flat wooden board (like a cutting board), if possible. Choose two to four cheeses, and serve them alongside one to three accompaniments (Dijon mustard, apple slices, wholewheat crackers, cranberry pate and grapes). Any more will over-do the presentation, and result in a tasting that seems cluttered and disorganized.
‘Boutique-Style’ Cheese Selection
Picture two clothing stores. One offers thousands of different types of jeans and shirts, dresses and accessories. The other offers a few outfits worth of clothing, all of which complement the rest. Based solely on that information, which of these two stores would you guess is the classier and more refined? The answer for most people is obviously going to be the one that offers a smaller boutique selection, and this is the case for cheeses, as well.
The best thing to do is pick two to four cheeses that complement one another. There are a variety of distinguishing features to a cheese: age, richness, milk type, processes and seasonal varieties. Pick a cheese that you like, and build a contrasting palette around it.
For example, if you like Asiago, then you’ve got a sharp, hard cheese. Try picking a sharp cheese made with goat milk (a garlic Chevre, perhaps), or a sharp cheese that’s been processed differently (like a sharp Cheddar). It’s best to have some rich cheeses (like Blue cheese and Brie) and other sharper cheeses that feel less rich.
Strong Pairing Choices
Most cheeses correspond to a few types of wine very nicely. A good delicatessen or wine seller will help you determine what goes with the cheeses you bought, or what cheeses go with the wines you’re eying up.
A great strategy is to pick two complimenting wines, and pick two cheeses that go well with each of those wines. That way, you’ll have two delicious wine options and four delicious cheeses, with a relative guarantee that the whole thing will work well together.
It’s great to have a few condiments (mustard, pate) and fruits (grapes, cranberry jelly, etc.) on the platter too. If you can get your hands on some fresh, crusty bread and warm it in the oven right before serving everything, your friends will think you are a culinary God (or Goddess).
Just remember to keep it simple and minimal, and you’ll do just fine.