How to Shop for Cheese for a Party
Hosting is a breeze when you start out with a beautiful cheese board. Read on for our tips on shopping for cheese for a party.
As a party guest, few expressions of hospitality are more pleasant than being greeted with a cheese board.
What many don't realize, though, is that the cheese-serving host wins, too. Maybe the wine you bought wasn't quite what you'd hoped for. Maybe you burnt the cake or are running behind. Maybe you thought you were inviting your friend and their partner and inadvertently invited your friend and their ex. It happens. Thanks to your stunning cheese board, though, you set the tone for the party early on and most people won't remember minor bumps along the way.
Heading out to buy your cheese? Follow these eight simple rules to get your party started on the right track.
1. Find a Cheesemonger
The best way to buy good cheese is to shop somewhere with a cheese counter staffed by knowledgeable mongers. Find a Whole Foods or, better yet, a locally-owned cheese shop near you. And develop a relationship with the mongers. It's much easier to find cheese you like once you've gone back and can say, "I really liked the Manchego you gave me last time — do you have anything else like it?" or "That Epoisses was a bit too strong."
2. Shop the Day Of, If Possible
Cheese is a living thing. If you buy a perfectly ripe wheel of Camembert the week before the party, you'll likely serve your guests overripe Camembert. Shop the day of whenever possible. If you need to shop a bit earlier, tell your cheesemonger when you'll be serving the cheese so they can give you something that will be ripe when you need it.
3. Don't Be Shy
Help your monger help you by giving them a brief rundown of what you need. Is this a small, intimate party for foodies? Your child's birthday party? Will you serve other food or just cheese? Share any sort of budget you have. And if they don't offer you a taste of the cheese they're recommending, ask for one. Since we don't shop this way most of the time, it can feel high-maintenance if you're not used to it. But it's by far the best way to make sure you'll walk out with cheese you love.
4. Keep it Simple and Varied
As a new cheese enthusiast, don't fall into the trap of buying an armful of beautiful cheeses and trying to introduce your overwhelmed friends to them all at once. You'll be more successful if you serve three to four that you really love. Try to get a range of milk types, textures, and flavors. Assuming other snacks will be served, you want to buy around one ounce of cheese per person. If cheese is the main culinary event, consider buying up to two ounces. There's certainly nothing wrong with having cheese leftovers!
5. Don't Stop at Cheese
A good cheese board is more than just cheese. It's a chance to have fun with different flavors and textures. As such, your cheese board will turn out all the more successful if you include a few pairing items. Ask your monger for their recommendations! Think honey, nuts, pickles, and dried fruit. And why stop there? Blue cheese tastes excellent with dark chocolate (encourage your guests to use the chocolate pieces as a cracker), and cheddar tastes quite nice with crisp apple slices. The most overrated cheese board accompaniment? Fresh grapes, which pair nicely with almost nothing.
6. Good Cheese Deserves Good Bread
It's a shame to serve good cheese with mediocre bread. Find some freshly baked bread with flavor and personality to complement your cheese board — look for something like miche, pain de campagne, or ciabatta. If you can't find bread worthy of your cheese, just serve crackers. Ideally, include one more neutral cracker, like a water cracker, and one seeded more flavorful option for more texture options.
7. Don't Stress About Wine
For some reason, buying and serving wine can make us all rather anxious. Lower the stakes, friends. You're throwing a party, not saving lives. Plus, even if the wine and cheese totally clash, everyone will still have a wonderful time. Wine and cheese are both very fun.
That said, sparkling wine will just about always pair with cheese. White wine is much more easily paired than red, which can quickly overpower milder cheeses. When in doubt, a simple pilsner will also play well with most cheeses. And, with the rise of the zero-alcohol movement, the sober and sober-curious will appreciate a sparkling water option.
8. Keep a Cheese Journal
Whether it's in a note on your phone or in a beautiful Cheese Log, keep track of what works and what doesn't. If you especially loved a cheese, snap a photo of the label so that you can easily access it next time you're shopping for a party.
Ready to put together your party spread? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Serving Cheese at Home.