CHEESE and WINE a tasting party

By Dr. Fred Frye

There are many people who say that a meal is incomplete without a little cheese to finish.

Cheese display Cheese and Wine: Some are content to dispense with dessert and end the repast with a cheese plate.  There are others who enjoy a whole separate experience with cheese after the dessert course as in the United Kingdom with their famous Stilton.

Evidence of cheese making has been part of our culture since 2800 BC.

But the discovery of cheese could have come about as a happy accident. Any milk left to warm by a fire or stored
in a sack made from the stomach of an animal would have soured, causing the milk solids (curds) and liquid (whey)
to coagulate and separate, allowing humans to learn their most precious commodity, milk, could be preserved in
the form of cheese and eventually rennet* found in the stomach of the milk-producing animal was the coagulant.

Now some 5000 years later, cheese is made all over the world with all kinds of milk, from reindeer milk in Lapland, from buffalo milk in Africa, and yak milk in Bhutan.

The miracle is that although milk is pretty much the same the diversity of textures, tastes, and aromas is infinite and virtually any cheese can be made anywhere in the world. The size shape and milk has been determined by such diverse external forces as historical events, centuries of experimentation, religious orders, and the terrain, while
the nuances of texture, and taste are influences by the raw materials – the type and breed of animal, the soil, the grazing on different grasses, the climate, microclimate
and the ingenuity of the cheese maker.

Europeans owe much to the Greeks and Romans and their cheese-making traditions. Their recipes spread throughout Europe to feed their legions as their Empire developed. The monastic life of the Middle Ages brought the by the Benedictines and then the Cistercians who developed cheeses we now know as the Trappist or monastery cheeses

This heritage has moved to a new height with the abundant choices that we have come to love. The Normandie Camembert, the Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Swiss Emmentaler, the Greek Feta, the Spanish Manchego are just a few very familiar names that we know and recognize when tasting. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk are the most common product used. These animals were domesticated early and have served mankind for a very long time.

* Rennet:
A naturally occuring enzyme found in the stomach of ruminants, i.e. cattle, goats, yak, buffalo, etc. that curdles milk

Plan a Party!

IWFS Cheese event 2011

Above is an example of how a table can be set for a wine/cheese party

Find a good cheese purveyor.  Whole Foods Markets have excellent cheese selections and can be a good guide.  The people behind the counter are generally very good with information and will offer tastes before you purchase.     Many urban areas have cheese specialty shops.  In San Diego we have a shop called Venissimo that has excellent choices and they have a speaker’s bureau and can provide a teacher to help with planning.   There are many web-sites on the internet that can help with planning-the best is  It is always fun to search to find out what type of milk is used and where the cheese in made and one can usually get a descriptor of the taste.  Having this information available to the guests will make the party more enjoyable.    Knowing you will be offering a goat cheese, or a sheep’s milk cheese or a blue-veined variety will help you determine what kind of wine you would like to serve.  Wine choices to accompany the cheese is a matter of personal choice and experience.

Try these below:

A soft cheese is usually best paired with a white wine.

A hard cheese is usually paired with a red wine.

So, what white or what red works best?

A big red such as a Zinfandel might work well with a blue-veined cheese such as Roquefort. The British prefer Port with theirStilton. A Rhone or Syrah works well with any hard cheese. Vermont Cheddar actually may be best with a Chardonnay. A goat cheese is best with a Sauvignon Blanc or a white Burgundy. There is no best pairing. Part of the fun is the trial and error program and let your own palate decide.

I attended a recent cheese event held at Richard Sutton’s cheese establishment in New Orleans the wines served were Chassagne-Montrachet (white)and a Corton (red) Burgundy wines.

The cheeses were: l’Ami du Chambertin a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Bourgogne France, Abbay de Tamaie a raw cow’s milk from Haute Savoie France, Harbison, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Vermont (a soft cheese), Comte Fort St Antoine a raw cow’s milk from Jura France, Tome de Savoie Joseph Paccard, a raw cow’s milk from Haut Savoie France and a strong Roquefort Vieux Berger from a pasteurized sheep’s milk from Roquefort France.

As you can see the varieties can be limitless. All of these tasted wonderful with a white wine except the Roquefort. That really needed a Port.

For your next event involving friends who enjoy wine and cheese you might use these guidelines. There are no rules. Just have fun.


Exploring cheese is a great pastime. Planning a cheese tasting party is a wonderful way to introduce friends to a taste treat. Processed American cheese may be good for a grilled cheese sandwich, but a baguette spread with a St Anton Triple Crème or a Toast point with a good Chevre is a whole new order of learning about the wonderful world of cheese.

How Cheese is Made

Cheese making equipment and methods vary from cheese maker to cheese maker but the basic principles involved have remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The milk: Ideally the milk is pumped straight from the milking site to the dairy where it is checked and tested to ensure it is pure and clean. It may then be pasteurized (typically at 165 degrees F for 15 seconds) or in some instances raw milk is used. It is then transferred to a vat and heated until it reaches the acidity level required for the type of cheese being made.

Coagulation or curdling: One the acidity reaches the desired level a special cocktail of lactic bacteria or starter culture is added. This both converts the lactose to lactic acid and contributes to the flavor aroma and texture of the cheese. Most cheeses are made by adding rennet (from the stomach of a milk-fed animal) or another coagulant to make sure the protein and fat in the milk bond and are not lost in the whey. Curdling is an essential step in cheese making as the degree of coagulation determines the final moisture content of the cheese, and this in turn affects the speed of the fermentation:

Separation of curds and whey: The freshly formed curd looks like a white jelly and the whey is a yellow-green color. Separating the curd from the whey creates a soft high-moisture cheese, while cutting the curds expels more whey and results in harder cheeses. The finer the curd is cut, the harder and finer grained the final cheese. The whey is drained off once it reaches the desired acidity.

Shaping and salting: The curds are then piled into molds or hoops and may be pressed before being turned out of their molds. Once out of the mold the cheese is rubbed or sprinkled with salt or soaked in brine before being placed in a cold room or cellar to age.

Aging and the affineur: The aging process is the art and science of cheese making as it brings out the character of the milk and the unique flavors attributed to the grazing. A good affineur (someone who ripens cheeses) can nurture the simplest cheese to yield up every nuance of flavor.

Artisan cheeses vary from day to day depending on the grazing, the season, the condition in the cheese room, and the cheese maker, so unlike wine, cheese has a vintage every day, which is what make sit so extraordinary and wonderful


  1. Now THAT’S a great looking table, time to party!

  2. Would of loved to of been at that party!!!! Xoxo

  3. kristine /

    Just back from Wine Country..first club shipment arrived…can NOT wait to use this article to help throw our first tasting party!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *