and now for something different: how to host a cheese and beer tasting party
If anyone is still out there, you may have noticed that I am going through a bit of a blogging dry-spell. I have not lost my enthusiasm for cooking or writing, I am simply having a bit of trouble getting adjusted to my new schedule of work, life, blogging, etc. and somewhere among all that I’ve found myself lacking in the motivation and momentum departments. That said, I’m excited to jump back on the right track in the coming weeks. I have a few latent recipes I’ve been hanging on to to share over the next week, and we will also be hosting a party this weekend that will involve me cooking tons and tons of autumn party/holiday food, which means you can look forward to a wealth of posts to come detailing the highlights and pitfalls of my second ever attempt at an enormous, coordinated dinner party of autumnal delights.
In the meantime, I’m going to post something a little different today. A couple of months ago, Stephen and I attended a cheese and beer pairing class, during which we ate our weights in cheese and consumed more beers than I can remember. What I took away from the class, apart from a happy stomachache and serious buzz, was that tasting parties are totally fun, and much more art than science. The main rule for determining good pairings? Taste the beer, taste the cheese, and if you like the combination, it’s a great pairing. It’s as simple as that, and it’s fun to do with friends (and much more low maintenance than hosting a regular dinner party). Put out some cheeses, put out some beers (or have people potluck it!), taste, and discuss. Everyone will leave happy, full, and buzzed, without you having to cook or bartend. To read more about it, continue on for some tips about cheese selection, beer selection, and ways to make the party more or less formal depending on your crowd!
How to Host a Beer and Cheese Tasting Party
I’m always looking for easy, low-maintenance entertaining ideas, and I recently learned how simple and fun it can be to host a tasting or pairing party. Beer and cheese are crowd pleasers, and they’re the kind of flexible fare you can play up or down depending on the crowd and occasion. Whether you go formal or casual, your guests will enjoy trying different flavor combinations and discovering what they like. Plus, tasting parties are naturally less prep-heavy than dinner parties, and they can be affordable too. You can even make it a potluck!
1. Consider your party plan. Do you want the tasting to be structured, or totally informal? The most casual version is to have each guest bring one interesting cheese, beer, or both, then put out some crackers, and let people taste and discuss freely. You can have a more structured tasting by building your own cheese and beer “menu” and creating an easy pairing notes sheet to help your friends record what they like (more below).
2. Choose your cheeses. Provide a variety of cheeses, selecting from different regions of origin, milk types, textures, ages, and colors. A good place to start is to look for one blue, one goat, one harder-textured cheese, one creamy cheese, one mild cheese, and if you want, one wildcard cheese! For more cheese tips, check out (http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/cheese/expert-advice-for-novices-5-tips-for-flawless-cheese-plate-assembly-the-cheesemonger-103730), or ask the steward at your local cheese counter.
3. Choose your beers. Again, variety is the name of the game. Go for some of what you like, but also step outside your comfort zone- you may find that beers you think you hate go great with cheese! A good starting lineup would be one hoppy ale (an IPA or pale ale), one amber, red, or brown ale, one stout or porter, and one lighter beer, like a Kolsch, pilsner, or wheat beer. You can also add a wildcard here, and again, ask the staff at a beer shop for recommendations!
4. If you like, create a simple grid rating system for the tasting. All you need to do is list your cheeses down the side of a piece of paper, and your beers across the top. Make a quick grid, give a copy to each guest, and have them use the standard wine pairing rubric, awarding points between -2 and + 2 for each combination. Really gross pairing? -2. Not much reaction? 0. Amazing marriage? +2. Whether you’re hosting a casual potluck or going formal, giving your guests a way to remember what they like is helpful, and it’s fun to compare notes with each other.
5. Make sure to offer some crackers or bread and water for your guests.
6. When it’s time for tasting, keep things relaxed. Even in formal cheese pairing classes they’ll tell you that there are no rules governing your palate. If you like it, it’s a great pairing! Take the time to savor a bite of each cheese with a sip of each beer, and record your experience in the corresponding space in the grid. Let everyone compare and discuss, and have fun!