Last year one of my girlfriends had the brilliant idea to do a wine-and-cheese tour across our city.
Once a month, we get together to try a cheese plate at a different restaurant and kick back with a bottle of wine. (And if it’s been a really long week, sometimes there are deep-fried appetizers and an extra bottle of wine involved, too.)
We laugh. A lot. And for a couple hours, we have real conversations about the struggles of work, parenthood, you name it. It’s become a wonderful tradition, and as a mom of two boys (who, frankly, doesn't get out much these days), it's been lovely to have a regular girls' night on the calendar. Not to mention, it’s fun to experiment with flavors that are more sophisticated than mac-n-cheese and fish sticks.
Along the way, we've experienced what we've learned from the best:
13 Secrets for a Spectacular Wine & Cheese Night
- Choose 4-5 cheeses with different tastes and textures. Something creamy. Something nutty. Something sharp. Something a little funky.
My personal picks? Triple creme Brie. Smoked Gouda. Mild Havarti. Sharp Cheddar. And a little Gorgonzola. But choose what you like! And if your friends aren't very adventurous, stick with fairly mild cheeses and just try one outside of your comfort zone.
- Add fresh and dried fruit. Include fresh fruit like grapes, strawberries or thinly sliced apples, especially for summer platters. Dried fruits like apricots, figs and cranberries tend to have sweeter, more concentrated flavors – making them the perfect complement for stronger cheeses, such as bleu or goat cheese.
- Serve a sweet-and-savory spread. Juicy sweet with just a hint of smolder, Red Raspberry Sriracha Sauce is absolutely divine for dipping or drizzling. And all you need to do is open the bottle!
- Create some crunch. Roasted almonds or pistachios are always excellent for nibbling and noshing. And if you have a health "nut" in your group of friends, this heart-healthy, low-carb option will be much appreciated.
- Add cured meats for more filling fare. Prosciutto. Salami. Whatever you choose, a few thinly sliced deli meats will make your platter a whole lot heartier.
- Don't skimp on the dippers. Crackers. Crostini. A fresh baguette. Whatever you choose, make sure you have plenty of vehicles for all of that glorious meat-and-cheese goodness.
- Create perfect pairings. Arrange your platter so that your favorite combinations are next to each other, and encourage your friends to try them together.
- Incorporate something tangy. A small dish of Kalamata olives, caper berries or even baby dills goes a long way. Or serve a little spicy brown mustard for extra bite.
- Do the math. How much cheese do you need? Honestly, it depends on whether your cheese plate is just an appetizer or not. If it’s the main course, a handy rule of thumb is about 1.5 pounds of cheese for 4 people. (If there's other food involved, just 3 or 4 oz. per person will be plenty.)
By the way, when it comes to calories, forget what I said about doing the math. Cheese night = cheat night. Act accordingly.
- Put it all together the night before. Do you know one of the best things about cheese plates? There’s no cooking involved! That means you won't heat up your house in the summertime. And you can slice up everything the night before and cover it with plastic wrap. The next evening, all you need to do is grab it out of the fridge and bring it out to the patio – or take it with you to a friend’s place.
- Keep it simple, potluck-style. Ask every friend to bring a cheese, bottle of wine or something to share! You'll end up with some fun combinations of flavors. Plus, it makes hosting really inexpensive, too.
- Offer a warm cheese option (if you want). For an easy Brie en croute, wrap a wheel of Brie in a sheet of puff pastry. Brush it with a beaten egg, and then top it with a couple spoonfuls of walnuts and Red Raspberry Sriracha Sauce or Sweet Pepper Jalapeno Jam. (Finely chopped apples with Creamy Caramel Sauce is an amazing combo, too!)
Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes until beautifully golden brown. That’s it! It looks so fancy, but the prep time is only five minutes – and it’s divine.
- And last but not least … pop those wine corks! Chilled moscato or Samba Sangria Slush™ is perfect for summer nights on the patio. Or for those who prefer a dry wine, serve a nice bottle or two of Cabernet Sauvignon.
And above all, just have fun with it!
Personally, my calendar is marked for “Eating All the Cheese & Drinking All the Wine: Part 17.” And you know what? Looking back on our tour across the city, my favorite wine-and-cheese night was actually one spent on my friend Katie's deck last summer. We basked in the sunshine with good wine, good cheese and good conversation – proving the best places aren’t the ones with closing times.
They’re the ones where you feel at home.
Cheers, friends! (And let us know your favorite wine-and-cheese tips, too!)