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Plan a Cheese Party | By Allison Williams

Want to throw a low-prep, no-cook party? Yes, it really is that simple. Nicholas Parrous of Luigi’s Italian Restaurant and Matthew Fink of Country Vintner Wine Distributors are co-founders of the Fayetteville Wine Society, a group dedicated to the promotion of wine through education. They show us how it’s done.

Books, magazines, television shows and entire careers are devoted to the passion of putting together the right wine with the right cheese. The good news? The fun is in the experimentation. These days, Nick is drinking cabernet sauvignon, Brunello di Montalcino, a Washington state riesling and a white burgundy. “Once I have selected my wines,” he says, “I will try to pair them with cheeses that are appropriate. Remember, this is a personal preference, it is not about being perfect.” And Matt? “I do exactly the opposite. I typically have dozens of bottles of wine lying around my house begging for me to drink them.” So he goes to the store and picks out three to five cheeses, at least two of which he’s never heard of, brings them home, and comes up with a combination. “It’s a bit of a test of my wine and food knowledge.” Whatever the approach, here are a few basics: • Harder types of cheese such as cheddar or parmesan can handle more tannic wines. • Creamier cheeses, such as camembert or brie, typically pair better with wines that have more acidity, like a chardonnay. Give salty cheeses a sweet wine for a particularly outstanding combination. • Think “local” when buying European cheeses, such as roquefort, swiss, gouda, asiago, etc. Quite often, the wines and foods of a region have grown up together over centuries and are truly made for each other. Waste not, want not. A wine and cheese party doesn’t have to be expensive. If you don’t want to spring for those fancy crackers, take a crusty French baguette or rustic Italian loaf and toast it until it is hard and crumbly. This works as a perfect substitute for pricey wafers. Just remember, you don’t want anything heavily salted – the cracker, wafer or piece of bread should cleanse the palate between combinations. Cheese isn’t cheap either, but quality selections can keep for several weeks or even months under the proper conditions. Save cheese for a second get-together. “In my house, leftover cheeses never last long,” Matt says. “They are incredibly versatile foods, so leftovers can be incorporated into nearly any meal, any time of day.” Mac and cheese anyone? Now that you’ve put some thought into your wine, cheese and wafer of choice, here are a few more tips to make the party a success: • Find a reputable shop that sells both wines and cheeses and employs knowledgeable staff who can help you with both. • Buy cheeses in blocks or wedges and cut a portion of the block into small cubes. Keep the remainder of the wedge or block for presentation or save for another use. • Arrange cheeses on a platter or a wooden cutting board. For a nice presentation, label each cheese with a small handwritten name card taped to a toothpick. “The final step is to try the wines with the cheeses,” Nick says. “There is no particular formula for doing so; however, I like to taste the wine first without the cheese. I then take a small cube and allow the cheese to coat my mouth. Then drink the wine again. It is a lot of fun to see how drastically the cheese can impact the wine. I usually will have a couple of different glasses of wine going at the same time and go back and forth with different pairings.” Want more? Visit GourmetSleuth.com. Matt and Nick borrowed a handful of pairings from the Web site and added a few of their own for the list (right). The best part is most of these cheeses can be found at your neighborhood grocery store. Bon apetit!