How to Host a French Cheese and Wine Party

Friends invited us to a “cheese party” when we visited Paris and that’s really what it was – a party serving French cheeses paired with French wines to complement everyone’s flavors. But it was also a party of surprises.

First, just cheese was served. There was also bread, nuts and dried fruit, but I expected there to be other dishes. Just cheese. Second, it reminded me of France’s long cheese history and I gained a greater respect for its elegance. cheese. Third, I learned a lot about flavor combinations and was inspired to recreate a French cheese festival in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It became my challenge and I did it only with the help of my French friends, Sylvie and Jean-Pierre. They were kind enough to host another cheese party and provide a written list of cheese and wine pairings. Sylvie also included American options in case the French versions were hard to find. There are over 1,000 kinds of French cheese and over 2,900 French wines. So it was a small but delicious selection that featured historic cheeses as well as some new ones.

Tasting Roquefort and Bleu d’Avergne © Martha Sessums

What types of cheeses should you serve?

Here are the courses offered by Jean-Pierre and Sylvie:

1. Soft cheese with bloomy rind – soft cheese with bloomy rind
French cheeses are Coulommiers and Brillat-Saverin. If you can’t find them, try Brie de Meaux or Camembert. The paired French wine is a low aromatic dry white, like an Aligoté Burgundy. The US version could be a small Chablis.

2. Soft cheese with washed rind – soft cheese with washed rind
French cheese choices are Maroilles and Livarot; or Epoisses, Munster, Point l’Evêque or Reblochon which are easier to find in the USA. The food pairing is a dry red like a Burgundy grand cru or a less expensive Burgundy wine. It can also be a sweet white Riesling from Alsace or the Loire.

3. Blue Cheese – blue-veined cheese
Roquefort is the French classic with Fourme d’Ambert but a Bleu de Gex or a Bleu d’Auvergne works. The wine pairing was a surprise – a sweet white wine like Jurançon sweet or Maury, Rivesaltes, Banyuls or white Port.

4. Uncooked pressed cheese – uncooked pressed cheese
The two French cheeses are Saint-Nectaire and Salers Affiné. Those most commonly found in the United States are Reblochon, Mimolette, and Cantal. The wine evolves towards a structured red such as Gigondas, Madiran or Le Saint Joseph with a Beaujolais taste, but a dry white Côte du Rhône also works.

5. Cooked pressed cheese – cooked pressed cheese
The French list is Comté or Beaufort. The American list is a Gruyère, an Emmental or a Tome de Savoie. The wine is a dry white like a Côte du Jura but a dry white Burgundy or Chardonnay will do.

Nearly empty cheese crates at Gourmet Corner in San Mateo © Martha Sessums

Recreating the French experience in California

The challenge was finding the French cheeses and wines, but there are several places to get them in the San Francisco Bay Area and, thankfully, in the United States as well. I started with The Gourmet Corner in San Mateo where I met the owner, Hugues de Vernon. Although he received a shipment of French cheeses two weeks ago, he had a much smaller selection when I arrived. “The cheeses are very popular and are going fast,” he said. I left with about half of the cheeses I needed and most of the wines, so I ordered more cheeses online from La Fromagerie who delivered to me the next day. I also bought two of the cheeses from my local Safeway – President Comté with a six month affinage (affinage) and Société Roquefort (which makes around 60% of French Roquefort) which is matured in the natural caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

Roquefort company found at Safeway © Martha Sessums

A major problem was finding a sweet white wine from the Jura region of France to accompany the blue cheeses. I found an expensive Jurançon mellow at K&L Wines, but chose a white port, which was on Sylvie’s American wine list for this course, from Total Wine & More. Finding a reasonably priced white Côte du Jura for the fifth course wasn’t easy either, but I did eventually find a white Bourgogne at BevMo. Sometimes even chain wine shops will get you there.

I was ready for the cheese festival with a group of friends familiar with French cuisine. (It was Covid safe – outside first, then inside with lots of open windows.) My cheese history information I shared before each tasting was from French cheeses published by Dorling Kindersley, a resource I have used for years. Baskets of white bread and wheat as well as crackers and nuts were on the table, along with grapes, which everyone could share.

Brillat-Savarin and Petit Camembert with Calvados accompanied by a white Bourgogne Aligoté 2020 © Philip Mustain

Dish #1 consisted of Brillat-Savarin and Petit Camembert au Calvados accompanied by a 2020 white Bourgogne Aligoté. Brillat-Savarin is a more recent cheese created in the 1930s and named after a famous French writer from the Eighteenth century. The ripening is one or two weeks. Camembert is obviously the most copied cheese in the world and can easily be found in many American supermarkets. But be careful, it should be firm with a creamy yellow pâté. The reaction: Brillat-Savarin was “tart and great with wine,” said Kim, who also said it would be a great breakfast cheese. Susan was impressed with the firmness of the Camembert, so thank you Le Fromagerie for the real one.

Course #2 was Epoisses and Point-l’Evêque cheeses accompanied by a 2019 Beaune Les Sceaux red premier cru. Epoisses is said to be Napoleon’s favorite cheese but the production did not survive the Second World War. It was remodeled in 1956 in the village of Epoisses in Burgundy. It is a strong-smelling (some say stinky) cheese with a fine texture. Point-l’Evêque is one of the oldest cheeses in the world and is creamy and fine-textured. The reaction: “Epoisses is my favourite,” said Jack. “It’s not as hard as I expected.” Susan said: “Epoisses and wine go well together. I can’t taste the other cheese (in this course) after this one.”

Saint-Nectaire paired with a red Gigondas 2018 © Philip Mustain

Course No. 3 was Roquefort and Blue d’Avergne paired with a white Valdouro Porto from Portugal. I found a mellow Jurançon but it was quite expensive and it was the only white port I could find from my sources. Roquefort is said to date back to the time of Pliny in ancient Rome who wrote about French cheese in his book in 79 AD. Matured in natural caves, it was also the first cheese to obtain French AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status in 1925. Bleu d’Avergne has a sticky, crumbly pâté with a tangy taste. The reaction: “I never eat blue cheese, but it’s great with sweet wine,” Jack said. “I guess I’ve only had it in salads with tangy dressings that spoil the flavor.” Sally said, “It’s the best blue cheese on the planet” (referring to Bleu d’Avergne.) “The creamy acidity works so well with the sweet port.” I found the white port too sweet since I tasted the soft Jurançon au bleu at Jean-Pierre and Sylvie’s party. Next time I’ll splurge on the expensive bottle.

Course #4 was Saint-Nectaire paired with a 2018 red Gigondas. Louis XIV often enjoyed cheese at his table. It has a complex taste and the pâté is a bit heavy and resistant to bite. Still, Kim’s reaction was, “It’s cheese ice cream although she needs a bigger wine.” Everyone agreed that it was an excellent cheese.

Comté and Beaufort paired with a white Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay © Philip Mustain

Course #5 consisted of two types of Comté – a five-month-old one often found at Safeway (and most French grocery stores) and a 24-month-old – and a Beaufort paired with a Macon- Villages Chardonnay white from Beaune. Both Comté and Beaufort are considered the most popular cheeses in France. At every cheese festival in Paris that I have attended, the Comté was well matured and had a much richer flavor than the younger refining. The flavor is slightly sweet but with a nutty flavor. Beaufort takes its name from the mahogany-colored Rhône-Alpes cows of Indo-Asia that crossed Europe and France in the early days. The reaction: “I like Beaufort better,” said Jack. All the others preferred the old County.

Dessert was a cheesecake with a Veuve Clicquot champagne which was a nice end to the cheese party.

Personal takeaway meals

Jack had an “epiphany with the Epoisses” claiming that he had “never had that in Ohio where I grew up”. Susan enjoyed pairings that brought out both the cheese and wine flavors. Sally said she would never look at cheese the same way she experienced it as a snack or after dinner, which did no credit to cheese or wine let alone the pairing. Kim said, “It was awesome. Now what’s for dinner? »

Everyone learned a lot, experienced great wine and cheese pairings and had fun. Many French cheeses and wines can be found in the United States, so designing a cheese party takes a bit of work but is well worth it. Just let your guests know it’s fair cheese. They can have dinner on the way home.

Main photo credit: Wines at Gourmet Corner in San Mateo, CA © Martha Sessums

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