Andrea loves to design and plan events. She especially loves small events, garden parties, and weddings.
Hosting a Cheese Tasting Party
Pulling off a small gathering takes some finesse and luck. One of the best ways to have a successful event is to build it around something people will enjoy and that is easy to follow.
One thing I've found in my adulthood: people love cheese. I've also found that it's easy to set up a cheese tasting party in your home. You only need about 15 to 30 minutes to assemble a cheese board that looks good. Of course, you can always spend more time on it if you have a bolder vision.
In this article, I'll tell you everything you need to know about setting up a successful cheese tasting event. I'll also tell you about the best foods to pair with the cheeses and suggestions on how to arrange your items.
Boards, platters, trays, pans: These are all synonyms for the dish you use for your arrangement. These could be anything from a cutting board to a slate slab, ceramic plate, antique metal tray, or fancy cookie sheet. There are fancy platters designed specifically for cheese, charcuterie, and desserts.
Spread: This refers to the items you'll arrange on your board. You want your spread to have a particular theme or focus. Cheese boards are some of the most common arrangements. You can get more creative and turn it into a Wisconsin-themed cheese board, an assortment of French cheeses, or a Tina Fey as Liz Lemon "Working on My Night Cheese" spread. The ideas are endless.
Plating: This is how you arrange your spread. On competition cooking shows, you may hear judges heavily criticize someone for their bad plating. Plating is more about technique. Plating criteria includes:
- How much height you can get on your board
- Variety of colors
- Variety of textures
- Cohesion: You don't want the elements to appear jumbled.
- Clean and sharp lines: You don't want spills, disheveled food, or waste.
- Size: In the context of a cheese board, you want sensibly sized bites.
- Garnishes and decorations
Neutral contrast: it's recommended that your platter be a neutral color like white, black, gray, or beige. Your board should be like a Virgo: it's important for structure, but it's not so dazzling that it takes away from the more whimsical, colorful elements.
What exactly is cheese? It's a dairy product derived from milk. It comes in a range of flavors, textures, and forms by coagulation of the milk protein casein. Cheese typically comes from cows, buffalo, sheep, or goats.
Cheese is an ancient food that predates recorded history. It is hard to say whether cheese originated in Europe, Central Asia, or the Middle East. By the time of the Romans, cheese was a part of people's everyday lives.
The following terms are used to describe cheeses and their texture and structure. Knowing these terms can help you describe cheese better.
Firm: Generally the whey is removed before the cheese is cooked. It is easy to slice, yet it stays in shape. Firm cheeses pair well with crackers, apples, strawberries, grapes, and carrots. Popular firm cheeses are: cheddar, Parmigiano, and provolone.
Semisoft: These cheeses have medium moisture levels. Semisoft cheese comes in two varieties: surface-ripened and interior-ripened.
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- Surface-ripened, the aging process starts at the exterior.
- Interior-ripened, the aging process starts from the center and ends at the exterior.
Semisoft cheeses pair well with dark breads, like rye. They're also great with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and savory treats, like samosas. Examples of semisoft cheese include: Gouda, Havarti, and fontina.
Soft: These cheeses have medium moisture levels with interiors that have been pressed or cooked. They have a creamy texture. Soft cheeses pair well with thick wheat crackers, jam, and juicy fruits like pineapples.
Examples of soft cheeses include: queso fresco, feta, and Brie.
Fresh: milk is left out to curdle. The moisture level is high. These cheeses tend to go bad faster than other types. Fresh cheese pairs well with French bread, jam, preserves, cake, and desserts. Some popular fresh cheeses are: mascarpone, ricotta, cream cheese, and cottage cheese.
Blue-Veined: it has specific cultures in it to promote the growth of blue or green mold. These cheeses are smelly! You want to limit how much you put on a platter, unless you want your event smelling like feet. They pair nicely with fruit and honey. I'm a fan of melted Gorgonzola on French bread with apples.
Examples of blue-veined cheese include: Chiriboga Blue, Roquefort, and Cabrales.
For a cheese tasting party, you can keep things pretty simple. I would suggest having about six to eight different cheeses for people to sample. You want to include cheeses that are unique that most people wouldn't easily recognize.
Your party should also include other foods. You need to cleanse your palette as you try different cheeses. You'll find it's easier to describe and understand different cheese flavors when you eat crackers, fruit, and other snacks.
You don't want to make your cheese board look too crowded. Make sure you select a board that gives you enough space for your arrangement. You may want to consider adding another board.
Also, don't be afraid to play with different colors, shapes, and sizes. A good board shows off your artistic instincts and a touch of geometry.
If you don't want your cheeses or other items to seep onto your board and make a big ol' mess then place parchment paper or foil on the board before you start assembling the food and decorations. Lace or a tea towel could also look pretty on a board and help make cleanup easy.
Mini tongs make it easy for people to pick up food without getting their hands all over the platter. This is helpful if you have a big group and don't want people spreading germs.
I would advise assembling your cheese board an hour before guests arrive. This way the cheeses have enough time to come to room temperature. Charcuterie meats should be placed on the board about 10 minutes before guests arrive.
Items that wilt should be put out five minutes before showtime. Wilting items include anything that melts, edible flowers, and fresh herbs.
The day before the event, know which platter, decorations, and utensils you intend to use. If you're an artist, consider sketching out your board before you assemble it.
I recommend cutting up large cheese blocks into cubes. You likely will only need to cut about half of the cheese block. Don't mix all the cubes into one pile! Cubes of the same kind should stay together as a group.
Make flags with paper, toothpicks, and tape. You just need to fold over a small piece of paper and tape it to the toothpick. Number the flags. Stick one flag into each cheese group.
Make a cheese cheat sheet for yourself. On the cheat sheet, write down the name corresponding to the number on each flag. You want your guests to eat the cheese without knowing what is what.
Near the end of the event, you can rank the cheeses together from the least favorite to the most favored cheese. This is also a good time to reveal what were the cheeses.
After you've assembled your cheese onto the board, add other food items. I recommend for a group of four doing two cheese boards. That way you have enough room for all the cheeses and other treats.
I would first put cheese on the boards and make sure there is enough room between the different cheeses. Why? You want to make sure different cheeses are not touching each other and absorbing their flavors.
It's a good idea to have a variety of flavors on your board: salty, sweet, tangy, savory, spicy, bitter, and plain. If everything tastes too similar people will get bored.
Cheese Party Essentials
A variety of cheeses
Notepads for people to write down notes
Fruit: strawberries, pineapples, bananas, apples, grapes
A plate for each person
Make paper flags and tape them to toothpicks. Number the flags and stick toothpicks in each group of cheese
Sausage or other meats
Knives to spread sauces and jams
Think of potential conversation topics before the event
Veggies: carrots, celery, sliced bell peppers
Have board games available
Bowls for jams or sauces
Containers for leftovers
Sign for event
Labels for cheese
I recommend hosting a cheese tasting party in the afternoon or evening. It should be a casual event where people can unwind for a couple of hours. The event should feel natural and should inspire lively conversation.
The pictures in this article are from one event. On that day, my friends and I ate cheese outside on my deck. My husband and I have a lovely view of a lake, and it tends to relax people. If you live in an area with a nice view, I recommend hosting your event there.
A cheese tasting event could be the main event of a party or a side adventure. I would encourage setting up a space where people can sit, eat, and think. People won't give the best feedback if there are too many distractions, or if they feel uncomfortable.
You could also give your dog some of the cheeses and note their reactions. We did this during our event. Our dog wasn't a fan of spicy cheeses, but he did aggressively beg for a certain sharp cheddar.
© 2021 Andrea Lawrence