Let them eat cheese! Invite your friends over for a party that is sure to delight. You can build a cheese party around a theme, such as the British cheeses shown above, available as a gift collection at ArtisanalCheese.com.
Updated July 2009
Cheese Tasting Party
Share Your Favorites & Discover New Cheeses
Page 1: Planning The Party
CAPSULE REPORT: So many food-lovers love cheese that we actually see people waiving the tempting desserts at great restaurants, in favor of the beckoning sirens of the cheese cart. You don’t have to throw a lavish dinner party to be popular with your food friends: just have everyone over for a cheese tasting. There’s so much to taste, you can do it once a month and have people clamoring for invitations. This is Page 1 of a three-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.
Planning The Cheese Party
Balance the tasting. Carefully choose your cheeses. Look for contrasts in:
- Textures (soft, semi-soft, hard)
- Flavors and Ages (mild to strong)
- Milk Types (cow, sheep, goat, although if you’re planning regular tastings, you can do “verticals” focusing on a different milk each time and focusing on different ages instead)
- Colors (more of an aesthetic presentation rather than a gustatory mandate)
- Shapes (another aesthetic—plates look more interesting with varied shapes)
Limit the number of cheeses. Cheeses should be savored: go for quality, not quantity. A large number of cheeses will tax your mind and your palate.
- For a dinner party, three or four is a good number to explore different flavors and textures. One or two spectacular cheeses with appropriate garniture is equally impressive.
- For a cocktail party or a cheese tasting, five or six provides a good variety.
- If you’re new to cheeses, start with a classic assortment: a chèvre, a Brie or Camembert, a blue (Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Stilton), a washed rind cheese (Munster, Pont L’Eveque or Taleggio), and a classic hard cheese (Asiago, Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano).
It’s logical to want to keep buying what you have previously enjoyed, and to share those cheeses with your friends. But be sure to venture into new territory as well.
Work with a knowledgeable fromagier. An expert at cheese shop or specialty food store can help you reduce many decisions to a few. A number of these tips came from Murray’s Cheese in New York City, and Great American Cheese Connection of Chicago.
Determine how much cheese you need. If it’s the cheese course of a dinner party, figure two ounces of cheese per person. If it’s a cocktail party, one ounce per person. If the focus of the evening is a cheese tasting, four to six ounces per person. You may have leftover cheese, but that’s not a tragedy.
Try variations on a theme. If you and your friends are sophisticated cheese lovers, consider a pot luck tasting. Tell everyone to bring his/her favorite cheese and a matching wine or beer, along with a hand-out sheet of background information on each. A group of 6 to 12 to can have an enjoyable time around the table discussing both the cheeses and the wines/beers. Serve with fruits and nuts, interesting breads (don’t forget the walnut or currant and walnut bread), charcuterie and a large salad, and you have a memorable dinner party with very little muss and fuss.
Take notes. Our tips from many years of tasting:
- As much as you’ve enjoyed certain cheeses or wines, the likelihood that you’ll forget several of them is high: Festive occasions tend to dull the mind for academics.
- Keep a food journal with all of your notes, preferences, places purchased (we still are trying to figure out where we purchased certain seemingly irreplaceable items), etc. We keep a large Filofax in the kitchen sectioned with all of our entertaining, cooking, and food planning notes. If we’re out at a tasting, we need only bring the note paper and add our notes to the binder when we return.
- If you’re not planning to take tasting notes, at least keep notes on what you purchased so you can plan a different assortment next time.
Share. When you find something truly special, e-mail your tasting notes to your foodie friends. That’s how THE NIBBLE got started, way back when.
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