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A Wine and Cheese Party

I realize that winter break was almost 3 months ago now, but I still feel I just have to make a post describing the amazing wine and cheese party I hosted for my friends. Wine and cheese parties are great for many reasons: 1) you can do something very elaborate or as simple as you wish; 2) they provide plenty of opportunity for socializing; and 3) you get to try many new things and expand your palate without the risk of buying a whole bottle you might not like! I held my first wine and cheese party with my friends four years ago after our first year of University and even though none of us really knew what we were doing back then, we still had an amazing time! The party we held back in January was a little more elaborate than the first time, but the fun times and memories were all the same. I think everyone should try a wine and cheese party at some point, and here are some basic guidelines and tips to help you get started planning your own.

The General Outline

The basic structure of our wine and cheese parties is quite simple. Everyone is asked to select one wine and one cheese (or other food item if they wish, for some variety) to go with it. I usually have everyone e-mail me their selections in advance so I can make sure we have a nice variety (i.e. reds, whites, roses) without having to spoil the surprise for everyone else. At the party itself, we all take turns presenting our wine and cheese to the  group, and then everyone tastes a bit together. After everyone has had a chance to go (this usually takes a little while, ~7-10 min per person) we bring out the remaining wine, cheese, and other food and just sit around sipping and eating our favorites for the rest of the evening.

The table setting

Personally I think this is the best structure for an event because it allows everyone to show off the work they did in picking a wine, while not being overly formal or “stuffy”. So far I am sure this sounds pretty simple right? I mean  it seems like all your guests are doing the work, so what is your job as the host of the party?

The Role of the Host

As I mentioned before, one of the best things about a wine and cheese party is that there really is no prescribed formula for how elaborate the party has to be. You have some wine, you have some cheese and boom presto a wine and cheese part is born. While this simple party concept works and is lots of fun, there are many things that you as a host can do to spruce up the evening a little bit. I have hosted two wine and cheese parties so far and they were both wildly different in what I did as the host, yet both were still a lot of fun. I would recommend starting simple for your first attempt and getting these key basics down:

  • The Safety of Your Guests: The number one priority of the host is always the safety of their guests. Since it is likely that most of your guests will be consuming a fairly large amount of alcohol throughout the evening, take precautions in advance to make sure everyone gets home safe. Ask people for their keys at the door, make sure you have sufficient parking space available for people to leave their car overnight, have taxi numbers at the ready, etc.
  • Decor/Atmosphere: If you are the host the party is probably happening at your place, thus you are responsible for setting up the party space. Make sure you have a space where all your guests can fit comfortably (preferably with chairs for everyone). There should be at least one table for whomever is presenting their wine and cheese to serve from and a second table to hold some kind of snacks. A dining room table also works well for a smaller more intimate group. Two things that will spruce up your party atmosphere are 1) real tablecloths and 2) candles. It is amazing how these two simple items can help transform a space and make it look classy and inviting
  • Music:I suppose this falls under the atmosphere category, but I decided to give it its own space because I think it is very important. The right background mix for a party can really help elevate the mood and set the tone. For a wine and cheese party, think more subtle and classical. This is not the place to be blasting out the latest top 40 mix, but instead would be better served by more subtle tunes that can sound nice in the background while promoting easy conversation. Some ideas are artists like John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Adele, Miles Davis…you get the idea

    Spanakopita

    Golden brown spanakopita

  • Fridge space: You will probably have a fair bit of cheese and at least a couple of bottles of white wine coming your way tonight, make sure you have the room to keep them cold!
  • Wine glasses: This seems pretty obvious, make sure you have at least one glass for each guest, and definitely have a few extra on hand as well; glasses have an odd propensity to break right before you need them the most. You should also have some easy way for your guests to rinse out their glasses between wines; a simple pitcher of water on the table and large bowl works well and keeps you from having to run to the kitchen after each round
  • Simple food: In addition to the cheese that your guests will bring, you should at the minimum provide a range of simple food for your guests to munch on. This is especially important given that you will most likely be drinking a fair bit of alcohol tonight, and it is good to have something other than heavy cheese in your stomach. My suggestions here are to have fruits and veggies arranged nicely with an assortment of crackers. Make sure you have pitchers of water out as well
Adding Some More Food

All of the points listed above will let you throw a wildly successful and fun wine and cheese party. However, if you want to take things to the next level, the main thing you can provide as a host is some more elaborate food options. This past January, we were hosting a smaller and more intimate group (~10 people) so my girlfriend and I decided it would be fun to cook up a few cheese-themed party foods for everyone to enjoy. We chose to make three dishes: spanakopita (greek; phyllo dough filled with a mixture of spinach and feta cheese), brie en croute (baked brie with jam, cranberries, and roasted almonds all wrapped in puff pastry), and an amazing pizza with roasted butternut squash, garlic, goat cheese, and rosemary.

Baked brie with jam, almonds, and cranberries wrapped in puff pastry

Of course, the addition of all this food necessitated a more complex table setting which only helped to add to the atmosphere of the evening. We also put out plates arranged with all sorts of little treats: fruits, crackers, figs, dates, chocolates, etc. Amazingly one thing that adding all of these extras did NOT do was take away from our enjoyment of the event itself. We prepared all of the dishes earlier in the day so that all we had to do was simply pop them in the oven and wait for them to bake. We could then go back and enjoy the party with our guests. This kind of pre-planning is key to ensuring a low stress and enjoyable night for you as the host, and it starts with selecting the recipes you are going to make and giving yourself enough time to prep them beforehand.

Squash, goat cheese, garlic, and rosemary

Conclusion

A wine and cheese party is a wonderful opportunity to have some fun with your friends and try something new! As a host, this type of party places very little burden on you and the excitement of trying so many new things is sure to stimulate conversation and keep all of your guests happy and entertained. The most important thing to remember about a wine and cheese party is to have fun and not worry about making it perfect. You really do not need to know anything about wine to participate in or host a wine and cheese party. Don’t stress over picking a “perfect pairing” most of your guests won’t know the difference anyway and will enjoy it just the same. There are also so many amazing resources online these days it is very easy to find some basic guidelines on how to pick a good wine and cheese together, just do a quick google search and see. Another great place to get some advice is from the clerks at your local wine shop, they are generally very knowledgable and will be more than happy to recommend a good wine for your situation in any price range.

So what are you waiting for? Go out, grab some friends, some bottles, and some cheese and have fun!

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