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How to Plan a Cheese Tasting Party is written by Sylvie of Gourmande in the Kitchen.
Throwing a cheese tasting party is a fun, casual way to spend a great evening with friends. And, since everything can be prepared ahead of time it’s an incredibly stress-free way to host a party. It just takes a little bit of planning to put together a great assortment of cheeses. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Planning a Cheese Tasting Party
Anyone who eats cheese. You don’t have to be a cheese aficionado to enjoy a cheese tasting party. In fact, it’s the process of tasting and discovering new cheeses that makes a cheese party so enjoyable.
How Many to Invite:
Ideally keep the number of guests somewhere between 6 to 12 people, large enough to spark conversation, but still small enough to keep it an informal occasion.
Step 2: Picking Cheeses for a Tasting Party
The amount of cheese to serve can vary greatly based on the number of accompaniments you are serving and whether your guests are light or heavy eaters. As a general rule of thumb I like to plan for at least 2 ounces per cheese, per person, but err on the side of caution and always buy a little more than you think you might need. You may have leftover cheese, but it can always be used later for sandwiches (related: 5 Ways to Gourmet Sandwiches) or making macaroni and cheese.
Choose at least 4 types of cheeses that will appeal to different palates. Limit the number of cheeses you buy, a large number of cheeses will just overwhelm your taste buds. It’s best to start with just a few cheeses and fully explore the different flavors and textures.
When choosing your cheeses variety is key. Cheeses are categorized by type of milk as well as style. The 3 main types of cheeses are: cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. Styles of cheese are defined by their firmness (e.g., Parmesan), their rind (e.g., Brie), their color (e.g., blue cheese) as well as their age.
Try to pick cheeses that represent different types as well as styles for a well-rounded offering. You could explore cheeses from various countries (e.g., France, Italy and Spain) or just do a tasting of one country’s cheeses.
Whatever you decide, be sure to select cheeses with flavors that vary from mild to strong to provide the best tasting experience, and serve at least one familiar cheese. Your local cheesemonger can help you determine what cheeses to buy as well.
Step3: Presentation – Serving your Cheese
Cheese should always be served at room temperature for fullest flavor, so take out your selection of cheeses about an hour before serving.
Depending on the size of your group, you can either make individual cheese plates or have people serve themselves from a cheese board. A cheese board can be any surface that can withstand the force of a knife; good options are slate boards, wooden boards, granite, or any all-purpose party platters.
If you choose to make individual places, you can assemble them ahead of time, cover them with plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator until about an hour before you plan to serve them.
If you are serving your cheeses on a cheese board, use a separate knife for every cheese. Specialty cheese knives are great but not a necessity, you can easily use the knives you have at home. For soft fresh cheeses a butter knife works well. Semi-firm cheeses and cheeses with rinds (e.g., brie) require a sharp, thin pairing knife. Hard cheeses (e.g., Parmesan) require a large chef’s knife and should be cut into chunks ahead of time.
Pre-cutting at least one piece of each cheese will make guests more inclined to start tasting.
Arrange the cheeses on the plates or platter starting with the youngest and mildest to the most intense and aged and have your guests taste them in this order as well. Eating the stronger cheeses first will mask the more subtle tastes of the mild ones.
With What to Serve
Offer a few accompaniments with your cheese. Serve sliced baguette or peasant bread and an assortment of crackers, along with plenty of water for your guests to cleanse their palates between tastings.
Olives, toasted nuts (related: How to Toast Nuts) and dried fruit are other great accompaniments. Fresh fruit (like pears) and honey pair well with blue cheeses. Crisp apple slices are great with aged cheddar. Thick, aged balsamic vinegar is a classic pairing with Parmesan as is quince paste with Manchego. Brie goes wonderfully with figs and walnuts.
Wine is another classic accompaniment to cheese. For a versatile wine choice, choose at least one red and one white. Light and crisp whites (like a Sauvignon Blanc) go with young fresh cheeses and goat cheese. Fuller bodied whites (like a Chardonnay) go well with buttery semi-soft and rind cheeses like brie and camembert .
A light to medium body red (like a Pinot Noir) will go with a variety of cheeses and are good all-around choices. Full-bodied reds (like a Cotes du Rhone) are best suited with stronger cheeses like aged cheddar or Parmesan.
Sweet dessert wines are excellent with blue cheeses. And don’t forget sparkling wine or champagne which is wonderful with rich triple crème cheeses like Brillat-Savarin. Your local wine store can help you make the right choices.
Since buying wine can get expensive, you can have your guests each bring a different bottle for the tasting.
Step 4: Taste and Enjoy!
What are some of your favorite cheeses?
About the Author:
Sylvie Shirazi is a freelance food photographer and food writer. On her blog, Gourmande in the Kitchen, she celebrates the joy that food brings to our lives every day.
Her motto is “cook simply.” She believes that good food isn’t fussy or pretentious; it’s simple, it’s real and it’s made with love for those we love. Through her blog, Sylvie hopes to inspire others to follow their instincts, trust their taste buds, and find a sense of confidence in the kitchen.