Ideas for hosting a wine and cheese party
Welcome the summer season with a Wine & Cheese Party
Summer arrives with a little hoopla around here and it doesn’t take long for pink cheeks and shoulders to start showing.
Hosting a wine and cheese party is our way of kicking off the season with friends. The deck chair cushions are retrieved from hibernation, lights are strung, and flowerbeds are primed—all part of the invitation to sip and savor.
It’s okay to learn hosting along the way.
Last year was the beginning of this fun new tradition, as all traditions have to start somewhere, right? As is customary with firsts, there are valuable lessons.
Okay, I admit, I waaaay over did it last year.
Like, fourteen cheeses,
eight meats (and smoked salmon and mussels),
three mustard varieties,
assorted olives and nuts,
fruit and fresh berries,
… and edible flowers for garnish,
for six people, kind of over doing it.
Wow, that almost sounded like a Christmas song!
Of course, it was amazing and we lingered over each morsel as wine flowed and glasses met in agreement.
Wine and Cheese Parties Stir Conversation and Exploration.
I may have gotten carried away, but our intention was to share a memorable evening together. That part was a total success.
One of our favorite things about noshing like this is how it stirs conversation and exploration.
“Oh, you have to try this sausage with that mustard.” Or, “I love this wine paired with that cheese.”
There was lots of Mmm to go around as we shared favorite pairings, making mental notes for future feasting.
My ability to gauge serving amounts was a total fail. We had so much food leftover we sent goodies home with each couple and continued to eat meat and cheese for days.
I also learned how important it is to narrow selections rather than risk overwhelm. I could have gone with half the choices and servings, enjoying it every bit as much.
Create an invitation for a casual party.
Here’s a copy of the e-invitation created on Punchbowl.com:
For our next party we took a more casual approach, popping a cork to celebrate the arrival of warmth and sunshine.
Nearly everything about this wine and cheese night was different, yet exactly what we hoped to enjoy.
Last time we sent e-invitations weeks in advance, this time we sent email and texts just a few days before (example below). Instead of flowers on the table, our garden provided the atmosphere.
Cloth napkins were replaced with paper and guests brought fruit and cheese along with wine.
We may have taken casual to a new level of familiarity when we passed flatware on a plate rather than having the table set before we sat down, but it worked.
A copy of the email we sent out just days before … spontaneity is a good thing.
It is supposed to be a beautiful weekend and our deck is aching to welcome friends around the table outside. We know this is short notice, but with a forecast of gorgeous and a looooong week of work, we would love to have you join us for a simple wine and cheese night on Saturday (this weekend) around 6:00 pm.
Bring whatever wine or non-wine you like, to share. As well as a hunk of cheese with bread or crackers you would ordinarily have with it. (Really, bring anything that sounds good to you.) We will have a couple of wines, meats, and cheeses to share too. This is as casual as it gets. Just friends enjoying a lovely Colorado evening.
Let me know if you can make it.
Here’s to summer!
Pairing the wine and cheese isn’t as important as you think.
One thing we did not make a big deal about either time was pairing the wine and cheese.
We trusted that to happen naturally as the evening progressed—everyone is eager to share their discoveries.
Since each couple brought wine they liked, we knew they would have something during the evening that appealed to them.
We had a favorite white and red, as well as a couple of bottles of sparkling cider available.
While it is nice, it is not required to like wine to enjoy the evening with friends … even a water glass joyfully reverberates when toasting.
The point is, you can host a wine and cheese party with panache in celebration or on a whim with a spontaneous potluck-type affair.
Below is my gleaning of helpful tips to make it a blissful night either way.
7 Tips for Hosting a Wine & Cheese Party
1. Bless, rather than impress.
Chances are good your friends will already be impressed you’re even planning a wine and cheese party and pleased to be on the invite list.
Keep it simple and sane for everyone’s sake so you can all relax and enjoy.
With specialized diets and allergies popping up everywhere, so ask a few questions in advance. The last thing you want to do is knock yourself out on a beautiful bread basket only to find out half the people coming can’t have gluten.
Choose one favorite item for each guest to have on the table with special consideration for allergies.
If I know a friend likes spicy food, I’ll go for a sample of spicier sausage. Someone else likes candies pecans, I include those too.
2. Select a maximum of 6 types of cheese.
Six types of cheese provides a nice variety of soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, firm, aged, and milk types (cow, sheep, goat). If you’re not already familiar with the various types, don’t hesitate to ask for a sample before you buy.
For a list of cheese by type, texture, color, milk, or country, as well as buying and storing guides, check out Cheese.com.
3. How much cheese to buy?
Don’t overdo (like I did) and end up with cheese-for-days. But how do you know how much cheese to buy?
What else will be served? If there is an assortment of nibbles on the table like olives, bread, crackers, nuts, vegetables, and meat, figure about 1/2 ounce per person, per cheese.
If guests are encouraged to bring food items, give direction as to whether it needs to be prepped before they arrive.
4. Ask guests to bring their favorite wine or non-wine beverage to share (no matter what it is).
It’s important to reassure guests there is no pressure to bring something unique or exotic. This guarantees everyone will be happily sipping at some point.
Ask where they first discovered it and why they like it, sometimes the story is better than the wine.
As the host, provide one white and one red per 6 people, as well as having a couple in reserve.
If you are providing all the wine, plan 1/2 bottle per person, plus 2 extra.
5. Set the table with three glasses per person.
1 for white wine, 1 for red wine, and 1 for water. Take care to pour a small amount for a first taste.
Once a guest indicates it is wine they like, offer more. (You shouldn’t need a dump bucket unless you are hosting a wine tasting. See #6 for more on that.)
If you don’t have enough glasses, consider borrowing rather than buying for one event, and don’t worry about everything matching.
Store a couple of bottles of sparkling cider in the fridge for anyone abstaining or done with wine. Pear is a popular stand-in for white wine and cherry is a pleasing substitution for red.
6. Don’t try to be a wine expert if you’re not.
Your guests will feel more comfortable exploring flavors and sharing if the experience is authentic. Trying too hard can come off as pretentious.
However, learning about wine tasting together can be loads of fun. Whether following an on-line guide for a DIY wine tasting or hiring a sommelier for the evening, a wine tasting is great when guests are not well acquainted.
Food & Wine and Epicurious both offer guides for organizing a more educational affair.
7. Plan a dish or wine to highlight.
Spend a little more on a particular vintage or choose a recipe that stands out. Once we made mussels in a white wine, another time we served shrimp cocktail as the centerpiece for the table.
I don’t mention specific wine recommendations because I don’t want you to get caught up there.
There are loads of resources for suggesting wines and it would be worth your time to spend about 10 minutes checking them out.
However, in an interview with New York City restaurateur, Danny Meyer, in the July issue of Food & Wine, he was asked what was the most extraordinary wine he’d ever tasted.
I loved his response:
“I think it’s dangerous to expect wines to be extraordinary! The best bottle you’ve ever had in your life could be a simple Pigato, if you’re sitting in the right spot on the coast of Liguria, eating the right fried little fish, with the right person. That could be the perfect wine, because context is just as important and anything.”
It’s all about the people you gather for your wine and cheese party.
I promise that if you are intentional about the people in your life and focus on serving them well, the wine and cheese will always be extraordinary.
My favorite tool for planning such festivities—a cheat sheet for shopping!
=> Click on the photo of the list to DOWNLOAD OR PRINT.
Do you have suggestions from wine and cheese parties you’ve hosted? Do tell!
Have questions for one you’re planning? Just ask!
More party menu ideas:
Shrimp & Prosciutto with Smoky Honey-Mustard Sauce
Easy Crab Legs
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Herbed Goat Cheese
Pear and Goat Cheese Appetizer
Prosciutto Wrapped Caprese Salad
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Date Fudge Truffles with Sea Salt
Double Chocolate Truffles