There are people who are next-level hosts, who delight in having loads of people over for themed parties with impressive spreads of food and build-your-own cocktail bars. Then there are people like me—introverts with small houses and zero aptitude for creating classy place settings.
This is where the low-key cheese party comes in. You don't need to come up with a theme (the theme is "cheese") or serve a sit-down meal. Casual cheese parties can easily be tailored to small gatherings, which makes them especially appealing right now (delta variant, I'm looking at you). Low-key cheese parties don't require a lot of prep work or cleanup, and everyone wants to take home the leftovers.
I recently had the opportunity to host a Cheeselandia house party to promote Wisconsin cheese, and here are my tips for hosting a casual cheese party of your own.
1. Don't overthink it.
It's nice to serve a variety of cheeses, but don't stress out about creating the perfect combination. Personally, I like to pick a hard cheese (like aged cheddar, Manchego, or Parmesan), a soft cheese (usually fresh chevre), and a blue cheese. But if you know that you don't like blue cheese or you want to try three different kinds of cheddar, that's fine! Buy cheeses that you love or that strike your fancy. Your guests are not judging your selections. They're just happy to be eating cheese.
As far as where to buy your cheese, obviously specialty cheese shops are an option. However, if there isn't one in your neighborhood or you're too busy for an extra errand, I've found that Aldi, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and local co-ops tend to have well-rounded cheese departments. In addition, many cheese makers and cheese shops have online stores—here's a handy list of places to order Wisconsin cheese.
Wondering which foods and beverages pair with your cheeses? Cheesemakers' websites typically offer a wealth of suggestions tailored to their specific products, and Google is your friend.
2. Browse the grocery store for accompaniments.
Since I do most of my grocery shopping at Aldi, that's where I purchased all of the food pairings for my cheese party: apples, salami, pistachios, and pita crackers (we already had honey and maple syrup on hand).
Again, specialty grocery stores and cheese shops are great if you're so inclined (I love fancy olives and artisanal crackers), but you can also purchase everything you need during your regular grocery store run. Grapes, prosciutto, nuts, dried fruit, pickles, water crackers, French bread—there are plenty of accompaniments to choose from.
3. Pair your cheese with beer.
I truly appreciate a thoughtful food and wine pairing. However, figuring it out on my own really stresses me out—I'm not a wine professional, nor do I play one on television.
Luckily, you can pair cheese with beer, which feels eminently more approachable to me. Since I was hosting a smaller gathering, I did the build-your-own six pack option at my local liquor store, choosing a variety of beer styles from local craft breweries. At the party, each of my guests got a small tasting glass so they could sample an ounce or two of each beer with the different cheeses.
Other low-key beverage pairing options include hard cider (which you may be able to purchase via the build-your-own six pack) and flavored sparkling waters. I served S. Pellegrino sparkling mineral water as a non-alcoholic choice.
4. Your cheese board does not have to be picture-perfect.
You know those cheese boards on Instagram, overloaded with colorful spreads of cheese and accompaniments? Those are more for show than function—imagine actually trying to serve yourself from one, and spilling pieces of charcuterie all over the table. Embrace the minimalist cheese board: easy to assemble, easy to eat from, and easy to clean up.
I started with my cheese, allowing it to come to room temperature (I sliced a few pieces off each block right before the party). Then I added the accompaniments, first the meats and crackers and then the sliced apples, honey, and maple syrup just before serving.
5. Make pairing cheat sheets.
I didn't want my guests to stress out about which beer was supposed to go with each cheese, and I didn't want to memorize that information either. So I made some pairing cheat sheets using Word (if you want to be fancy you can use a template from Canva or a similar service).
During the party, some people (myself included) methodically worked through each cheese pairing; other people took a more laid-back approach. I was surprised by how much the flavor of the exact same cheese varied depending on the beer it was paired with. Having a variety of cheese and beer pairings didn't take much extra planning, but it made my party feel like more of a special occasion.
Carr Valley Cheese and Cheeselandia provided me with 24(!) blocks of Wisconsin cheese as well as a cheese board, cheese knives, crackers, and other party supplies in exchange for hosting a cheese party and posting about it on social media. I purchased the accompaniments and beer mentioned above out-of-pocket, and I didn't receive any additional compensation for this blog post.
If you enjoyed this post, pin it!