Next to buying good cheese, the single most important element of serving a great cheese course is the temperature of the cheese when you serve it--room temperature! Set the cheese out at least 3 hours before serving time. It really is true that $5 cheese will taste like $20 cheese at the right temperature and $20 cheese will taste like $5 cheese at the wrong temperature. When you offer it to your guests, your Brie should be weeping, your Blue stinking and your Reggiano glistening with a whisper of its oil.
With cheese and wine, I like to add sweetness and texture and present them together on a memorable serving platter.
Lavender Honey drizzled over pungent Stilton or creamy Point Reyes Blue Cheese is surprisingly well-matched.
The crumbly sweetness of biscotti with big cheeses and red wine is a wonderful flavor combination.
Serve candied almonds or other candied nuts for an accompaniment with a sweet, salty crunch.
The most elegant thing you can serve with a cheese course is a bowl full of warm pistachios...to occupy hand and mouth while you're sitting around the table talking with friends and finishing that great bottle of red wine.
If serving Parmigiano-Reggiano, drizzle with a couple of drops of aged balsamic vinegar to enhance the flavor.
Set out and arrange cheeses 1 hour before serving, cheeses are best consumed at room temperature.
Serve cheeses on a round tray or wheel, arranging clockwise from 6:00 from the sweetest to the strongest cheeses.
Serve sweeter accompaniments, such as figs with the stronger cheeses to get some agre dolce flavor.
Serve stronger cheeses with lemon and orange wedges to enhance the flavors.
As a general rule, the cheeses you choose should follow the flavors and intensity of the wine. If you are drinking a big, intense wine, choose a big, intense cheese. For example, if you've chosen Petit Sirah (usually big, deep--colored and full bodied), choose a Gorgonzola, the creamy, classic Italian cow's milk blue cheese that comes in Mountain (aged) and Dolce (sweet) varieties.
If you are serving a Sauvignon Blanc (which tends to be crisp and light - medium bodied), pair it with goat cheese, light and delightfully tart--even tangy. Also, the more acidic your wine is, the higher the fat content of the cheese needs to be (generally).
A young, fresh goat cheese, goes well with Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc Reserve or the Luna Pinot Grigio. Or try, St. Paulin (also known as Port Salut), good company for fruit and light wine.
Buy a well-aged Brie, Camembert or Cambozola for Chardonnay. This wine has the acid to take the creamier, "fatty" cheeses.
For Reggiano and Blue cheeses try my Old Vine Petit Sirah Zinfandel.
Of course, contrasting flavors can also guide you toward great cheese course combinations, so from time to time I like to serve a crisp, fruity sparkling wine with Reggiano! What contrast for the mouth!
With numerous varieties to choose from, cheese's companionship with both sweet and savory ingredients can make serving the ultimate cheese course a creative and colorful celebration every time. Have fun and experiment with your favorite flavors!