A wine and cheese party is a great social icebreaker. Learn supplies you’ll need, how to choose pairings, and how to get your guests talking about the tastings.
As soon as it hit my tongue, my nose crinkled.
My eyes blurred with tears as this particularly pungent variety ravaged my taste buds.
“Try the port,” my co-worker Jen smiled.
Sweet relief, I thought, as I threw my head back and swigged the wine.
Then something happened.
It… changed. This sour, borderline offensive chunk of old milk was singing to me. Its rich, acidic complexity bounced off of the thick sweetness of the port.
Jen popped a bit of cheese in her mouth and followed it with a small sip of wine. “Hey, this is good, isn’t it?”
“It actually is,” I said, rolling around what was left of the cheese and wine on my tongue.
Jen and I were opposites. She, the free spirit, artistic, always smiling. I, regimented, analytical, already set in my ways at only 23.
I wasn’t a fan of blue cheese back then. But in that moment of mutual discovery, Jen and I sort of bonded. All thanks to a wine and cheese party.
The Social Power of a Wine and Cheese Party
My blue cheese bonding experience with Jen demonstrates why parties with a specific focus are socially powerful.
Most of us like wine. Most of us like cheese. They provide a starting point, a common ground, for otherwise dissimilar people. Trying and discussing wines and cheeses is easier and more fun than making awkward small talk about how okay the cream cheese pinwheels are.
See, a focused party gives people somewhere to, well, focus their thoughts and conversations.
This is especially helpful if you’ll be hosting people who don’t necessarily know each other well. Of course, a focused party is also fun for close friends and family! But for people who are new to each other or introverted (Right here!), they provide a built-in ice breaker and conversation starter.
Which would you rather see your guests do?
- stare at their shoes
- Hide in the bathroom
- Hit it off while discussing the awesome pairings at your wine and cheese party
#3? Yeah, me too.
If you’d like more focused party ideas, check out my post on hosting a crafts & cocktails party.
Now that we’ve established how wine and cheese can bring everyone to the table, let’s talk about how to do it.
Two Roads to a Wine and Cheese Party
A relaxed, adventurous wine and cheese party is a perfect backdrop for strengthening current friendships and forming new ones. And hosting one is easier than you might think. Depending on your budget, guest list, and penchant for party planning, you can take 1 of 2 roads:
- Provide all of the wine and cheese yourself
- Have guests bring a wine and cheese pairing to share
Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
If you provide all the wine and cheese, you can ensure a well-curated selection of pairings – maybe 4 or 5 pairings total. This will also prevent guests from becoming overwhelmed by too many choices. However, providing all the wine and cheese can start to get expensive very quickly, especially with a larger guest list.
On the other hand, you can ask each guest or couple to bring a wine and cheese pairing to share. This definitely helps defray the cost and planning for the host. The surprise of seeing what each guest brings is also fun and adventurous. However, you always run the risk of someone bringing a block of Velveeta and boxed wine (Not the good kind).
Supplies You’ll Need
Whether you’re providing all the goods, or guests are bringing to share, the supplies are the same (This list includes affiliate links):
- Wine. Since this is a tasting, you’ll want about 2 ounces per person, per variety of wine. A standard bottle of wine contains 750 mL or 25 ounces, so you can get about 12 tasting pours (At 2 ounces each) per bottle of wine.
- Cheese. Again, think tasting-size portions to determine quantity. About an ounce of each cheese per person is enough.
- Signage. Label each wine and cheese pairing so guests know what they’re tasting. These wine cork label holders from Stylish Spoon are super cute. Simple cardstock placed in front of the pairing works too.
- Cups or glasses. At least 2 per person, just in case some break or guests want different glasses for red and white wines. I like these recyclable wine glasses.
- Serving dishes or plates. The great thing about a wine and cheese party is you can make it as upscale or laid-back as you want. These slate mini cheeseboards are the perfect size for serving a variety of cheeses. And they come in a 6-pack!
- Serving knives for softer cheeses. The holes in these knives prevent the cheese from sticking to the blade. A plain butter knife usually does the trick too.
- Utensils for guests. Elegant little hors d’oeuvres forks elevate the experience just a bit. And, they’re fun to use.
- Small plates.
- Charcuterie, starches, and palate cleansers. Cured meats, bread and crackers, pickled vegetables, and fruit help break up the richness of the cheese and cleanse the palate between tastings. Salami, sliced baguette, cocktail pickles, olives, grapes, and apples are a great assortment to offer.
- Water. Because sometimes, you need a break. Serve it in something beautiful like this.
How to Choose Pairings
A truly enjoyable wine and cheese party includes some thoughtfully-composed pairings. Thankfully, the internet is full of information on which varieties work well together. Wine Enthusiast has a super helpful guide to pairing wines and cheeses that has become my go-to. You can also find tons of helpful pairing infographics on Pinterest. Check out my social board below for some of the best!
I’d suggest serving at least 1 offering from each of the 4 categories of cheese: Hard, blue, bloomy, and fresh. Check out the Wine Enthusiast article above for an explanation of those categories.
Also, don’t feel AT ALL like you or your guests have to purchase the most expensive wine or cheese in each category. Even your local grocery store has high-quality, affordable options, and price doesn’t always equal excellence.
I like to keep my pairings separate from one another. I place each variety of cheese on its own serving dish, and place the paired wine behind it. My way is just one idea though. People have come up with so many creative serving ideas (Check Pinterest for inspiration). From butcher paper, to a wine and cheese center piece, to a big long cheese board, the serving options are endless.
Make it Interactive
Your guests are at a party – they didn’t come to fill out a worksheet on wine and cheese. That being said, you can encourage them to get talking about what they’re tasting.
Start by explaining the science behind pairing wine and cheese.
No organic chemistry lecture (We want your guests to stay awake, after all). Just let your guests know that cheese can actually make the palate more sensitive.
Suggest that they start with a small sip of wine, then a bite of cheese, then another sip of wine. Foster a sense of adventure by encouraging them to discuss how (or if) they notice differences in the notes of the wine after eating the cheese as opposed to before.
You could also ask them to rank the pairings from favorite to least favorite, and discuss with other guests. Just type up your pairings and provide a list to each guest. A simple 1 through 4 ranking is easy and fun, and doesn’t feel cumbersome like a full-blown worksheet.
Finally, you could reserve a special cheese and paired bottle of wine, and give them away as a prize to the most insightful guest.
Also, remember that this is a wine and cheese PARTY. Let the tasting serve as a backdrop for catching up with friends and getting to know each other better. Help your guests have fun and encourage them to taste at their own pace, embarking on a little tasting adventure.
What I’m Saying
Hosting a wine and cheese party may sound intimidating. but it’s surprisingly easy. A wine and cheese party is a focused social event that serves as a great backdrop for bonding with our friends and family, as well as forging new friendships. Prepare to host your wine and cheese party by:
- Deciding who will provide the wine and cheese (You or guests)
- Gathering supplies (See the list above)
- Briefly educating guests on the science between wine and cheese pairing
- Encouraging guests to discuss each pairing
Follow the steps above, and you’ll be well on your way to hosting a successful wine and cheese party. And who knows, maybe your guests will end up bonding over blue cheese.
Have you ever hosted a wine and cheese party? What are your favorite wine and cheese pairings? Let me know in the comments below!