Fun With Friends: Throw a Cheese Tasting Party!

I hardly need an excuse to get a bunch of friends together, but if did a cheese tasting party would be a pretty fine one. Most people love cheese, and most people love trying new things and chatting about them. And really, who doesn't love a party?

The Cheese: Variety is Key Obviously if you're throwing a cheese party, you want to look beyond your average run of the mill cheddar (although I love cheddar and would certainly suggest a good, sharp variety in your spread). You'll want to have a few soft cheeses and firmer cheeses on hand. A few of my favorites:
Brin d'Amour: This mild Corsican sheep's milk cheese is covered in herbs and looks incredibly pretty on a cheese plate. It has a nutty, almost buttery flavor and is fantastic with all types of crackers and olives.
Manchego: This creamy yet firm cheese has a likeable saltiness that makes it a star all on its own. No little slice of prosciutto needed. When you've had your fill of Drunken Goat, Manchego is where to reach.
Bartlett Blue: You've got to have a well-rounded blue cheese at every cheese party, and this one is my favorite. It's a little like Stilton but has less of a bite. A real crowd pleaser.
Goat Milk Brie: O.k. this is certainly not a higher-end option, but I truly love this cheese. No, it's not as creamy and decadent as a more standard brie, but it has a nice tangy nuttiness that you just can't beat for $2.49. A good choice for a mild cheese to serve with crackers or toasts.

How Much? Real Simple suggests to plan on buying 3 pounds for 8 people, 6 pounds for 16, or 9 pounds for 24. If cheese is one of many items being served, plan on buying 3 to 4 ounces per person.

Crackers and Such: The Nibbles Cheese is the star here, but you're going to want to think what you'd like to lay out with your cheeses. Good crackers, sliced baguette, and salty olives are always a winning choice. Lately I'm addicted to these delicious Rainforest Crisps - what's your go-to cracker choice?

Labeling: Which is which? There have been plenty of parties where I set out a few cheeses for an appetizer and call it a day. But at more of a themed cheese party, it's nice for folks to know what they're eating. Think of labeling your cheeses with clean no-nonsense name tags or perhaps porcelain cheese markers.

Bubbles and Booze: Washing it all Down
Wine is an obvious accompaniment to cheese, and I like to have both red and white on hand in addition to a sparkling wine which I love in the warmer months with cheese. Choose a crisp whites (like a Sauvignon Blanc) for your mild, creamier cheeses and a medium bodied red (Pinot Noir would be a good choice here) to go with many of your other cheeses. A lot of folks are getting more and more into craft ales and darker beers with cheeses (myself included), so I'd pick up a few bottles to have on hand as well. Party planner tip: ask everyone to bring their favorite beverage and you'll have a more interesting and wider selection!

Set-up and Decorations: Styled or Slim? You don't really need to go crazy here. Let your cheese take center stage. But you will need a few nice platters and a cheese knife for each individual cheese. Cocktail napkins and glassware or recyclable cups are also a must. Think about where you want to situate the cheese platters in your house, knowing full well that they'll be a gathering spot. For this reason, I always like to stagger and space the platters in a few rooms so guests are encouraged to wander about and mingle.

Related: Easy Party Appetizer: Grapes Wrapped in Goat Cheese

(Image: Faith Durand)