Sunday, December 20, 2015

How to serve and enjoy cheese and wines at your parties?

Are you a cheese lover? I am!

My husband, my son and I love love love all sorts of cheeses ranging from the soft brie to the hard cheddar, from mild cheese like Fontina to sharp-tasting blue cheeses and also cheeses from different countries like the Swiss Gruyère, the Greek Saganaki, the Italian Mozzarella and more... Although cheeses are cheeses, they can be very different in their exclusive taste and texture and also how we appreciate them... whether individually or being part of a dish.

I want to learn more about cheese!!! And I am very pleased and honoured to be invited to "Vintage Christmas" blogger event last week (9 December 2015) organised by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.

Based on what I have learnt from the event, my family were very happy appreciating these...

How to serve and enjoy cheese and wines at your parties?
Our cheese appreciating platter.
The "Vintage Christmas"blogger event held on 9 Dec 2015:
I'm the 3rd person from the right and my friend, Dave is next to me

Do you wish to know what I have learnt at this event?

"Behind every good cheese, there's a good wine!" - Rule #7 from the Ten Commandments of Communal Christmas Cuisine by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter

I have to admit that I'm never good with pairing wine and cheese and didn't even know that Port and Stilton are considered as a classic pairing until my cheese connoisseur friend, Dave told me. Opsie! Good thing that Dave came along with me to this event. Dave has been organising cheese tasting club in our workplace and I know that he is a great companion to discuss all about cheeses.

These are what we have tasted:

Combination One: Triple cream brie with a dessert wine Sirromet Late Harvest Pinot Gris
It is always good to start tasting the mild cheese first. However, Dave and I arrived late due to traffic jam and so we tasted this combination later. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed this light and creamy combination.

Combination Two: Gouda with Sirromet Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc
Dave said that this is good Gouda as it is mild, lightly sweet with a smooth fudgy texture. And it is perfect to enjoy with crisp, dry and refreshing white.

The Gouda and the triple cream brie (behind the grapes) and we tasted.

Combination Three: Cracker Barrel Vintage Cheddar Extra Sharp (aged 20 months) with Sirromet Vineyard Selection Shiraz

Seeing no Kraft logo on this cheese, I said to Dave... This Cracker Barrel is not like the usual Kraft Cracker Barrel that I had. It's nicer than Kraft's!!! Then, Dave and I examined the back of the packaging and saw that all Cracker Barrel cheeses are originated from Kraft!!! Having said that, we deduced that different cracker barrel cheeses from different countries can taste very differently with different kinds of quality. For this instance, this Australian ones from Warrnambool Cheese and Butter is pretty good with a nice sharp and flaky finish.

Cracker Barrel vintage Cheddar extra sharp (aged 20 months)

Combination Four: Cracker Barrel Vintage 44 Cheddar (aged 44 months) with Sirromet Signature Collection Cabernet Sauvignon
This is my favourite cheese of the event because I like its distinguished well-fermented sharp taste exploding my mouth. It has a subtle stout-like bitter aftertaste which I really like but Dave thinks it is too strong for him and prefers the previous one that is less aged and sharp.

To me, this rich-in-taste vintage cheddar is absolutely superb complementing with the full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with high tannins and noticeable acidity.

Cracker Barrel vintage 44 Cheddar (aged 44 months) and Sirromet Signature Collection Cabernet Sauvignon

Combination Five: Blue cheese with Sirromet Private Collection Sunwine
I can tell that this is Dave's favourite! And I know that my husband will love this too. No doubt at all that Port and Stilton are the best being together, bringing out the best of the pungent flavours and sweetness in both. Although I'm not an usual blue cheese fan, I didn't mind at all enjoying these.

The blue cheese that we tasted.

Besides tasting the wines and cheeses, David Mellor, the cheese barista of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter has also demonstrated to us how to assemble an impressive cheese platter and this is what he did:

One: Cracker Barrel Vintage 44 Cheddar topped with honey, walnuts and dates

First, place the block of cheese on a platter. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of honey. Top with 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts and 1/4 cup of chopped dates.

Two: Mil Lel Parmesan with Balsamic Glaze
This is my favourite again! 
You know... Parmesan cheese on its own is yum but it is like an everyday ingredients for cooking and making pasta yummy. 

Now try this... Drizzle some balsamic glaze over the top of small slices of Parmesan. Then use a food picker or toothpick to pick and enjoy bits and pieces of it! I tell you... this Parmesan is so yummy with lots of umami taste!!! It is sweet and salty with gritty bits of salt! nom nom nom...

An impressive cheese platter assembled by David Mellor, the cheese barista of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter

Three: Camembert pinxtos with fruit chutney
This is lovely... Cut a baguette into slices and toast them slightly. Cut Camembert into slices like 24 slices from a 220g block and place the cheese on the bread, and top with 1 tsp of chutney on each slice. Just like this...

Camembert pinxtos on lightly toasted toast with fruit chutney

During the event, we were given this Ten Commandments of Communal Christmas Cuisine by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter which is informative and useful... especially Rule #10: By all means try lots of cheeses... but cleanse your palate in between. It says that apple, celery 
and Quince paste are great palate cleansers!

Ten Commandments of Communal Christmas Cuisine by Warrnambool Cheese and Butter

Feeling equipped with all these knowledge, I like to show off to my husband and son that I do know something about cheeses and so I gather these Cracker barrels...

You may wish to know that Cracker Barrel's Vintage 44 Cheddar is now available in Woolworths Stores but only for a limited time over the festive season (or until stock runs out) and each is selling at AUD$6.99 which is very reasonably priced!

Cracker Barrel's Vintage 44 Cheddar: Available for a limited time only!!!
Parmesan with Balsamic Glaze: This is now my fav cheese entertaining recipe!!!
I want to eat this again... And would like to highly recommended this!
I hope that you will have nice cheese party like we do.

More information:

All the wines that we tasted at the event were provided by Sirromet.

The following are The 10 commandments of communal Christmas cuisine written by David Mellor, Cheese Barista, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter - Hope that these valuable knowledge will help to appreciate cheese better.

Australians are a nation of cheese lovers, particularly at this festive time of year where cheese platters are on heavy rotation at end of year parties, Christmas celebrations and social gatherings. However, you'd be surprised at how much Australians still don't know about cheese (and how to actually serve it). Flavour, texture, accompaniments, storage, palate cleansers - there are actually a lot of factors to consider!

Luckily, the "cheese barista" of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory, David Mellor, has put together his top 10 commandments of communal Christmas cuisine, so we can make all our cheesy dreams come true this festive season. At 26, Dave is one of the youngest cheese graders in the industry. Dave is responsible for tasting and monitoring the flavours of the cheeses in the WCBF portfolio - which is not an easy task, with Dave tasting up to 200 cheeses a day!

Originally from the UK, at 19 Dave got his license working as a forklift driver at Pilgrim (the number two cheese company in the UK), where he offloaded cheeses and watched cheese graders tasting cheese. His curiosity got the better of him and he hopped off the truck to taste cheeses with the graders. When a position opened up, Dave took the opportunity and hasn't looked back since.

However, Dave had always wanted to live in Australia and so when WCBF approached him to become their cheese grader, Dave made the big move Down Under.

1. Remember that everyone has different tastes - so mix it up!

Just like we all like different varieties of wine, we also have different palates when it comes to our favourite cheese. The ideal platter has a mix of hard cheddar, a creamy cheese such as brie or camembert, and a cheese flavoured with pepper or chilli to spice things up. When plating up, it's as much about flavour as it is about texture and contrast.

2. Cheese is a bit like know your audience

Wine preferences vary between the generations - and so do cheeses. Younger people will probably prefer milder cheese that is matured for a shorter period, while the older generations (or more seasoned cheese lovers) have more mature tastebuds through trial, so they are looking for stronger flavours, such as a stronger flavoured cheddar like our limited edition Cracker Barrel Vintage 44, which has been matured for 44 months (a standard cheddar is aged for about half that time). To keep both the young and mature palates happy, make sure you include tasty and creamy cheeses, as well as vintage cheddars.

3. Shopping for cheeses

With so much variety on the market these days, consumers have a range of options to choose from and the good news is that there are many good quality cheeses for a reasonable price, which can be found in the dairy cases.

4. How to tell a superior cheese?

You can tell a good vintage cheese by the colour and texture of the surface. For a cheddar, look for white markings, a sign of calcium lactate which indicates a very mature cheese with an exceptional flavour. Alternatively for a Colby cheese, look for a more richer colour which shows the cheese would have a nice smooth, creamy texture.

5. Don't forget your accompaniments (but choose carefully)

While I personally love to eat cheese on its own, for the majority of cheese eaters, habit and a lack of cheese knowledge leads them to accompany a square of cheese with all sorts of accompaniments! Whilst this is not totally taboo, it's important to ensure that whatever you're using as the vehicle to get the cheese into your mouth doesn't over power it. I would recommend a plain biscuit/cracker, which really only serves the purpose of getting the cheese from the plate to your mouth, and for many, just adds a different textual layer.

6. Did you know...

Quince paste was actually invested as a palate cleanser between courses of cheese, similar to a mint sorbet so popular in French degustations. However, the modern use of quince paste is great to have with your cheese, particularly as Australian cheese tends to have quite a savoury flavour.

My secret tip? Spread the quince paste and cheese on either side of the cracker to keep your flavours separate, but complimentary.

7. Behind every good cheese, there's a good wine!

It's the festive season, so you're likely to be enjoying a tipple with your cheese. My rule of thumb is that cheddar, vintage or tasty cheeses go well with a glass of red wine as the flavours balance each other out, while creamy cheeses such as Camembert or brie suit a sweet dessert wine, as it cuts through the freshness of the cheese.

If you’re feeling adventurous or looking for something fresh, try a slice of brie with the crisp flavour of an Appletini, a Gouda cheese with a San Francisco Sangaree, a cheddar with a Star Gazer or a chevre with Cool Melon Mint - the options are endless!

8. Storage before the big party

Ever wondered why your cheese can sometimes take on a flavour similar to last night's dinner? That's probably because you stored it in glad wrap. Cheese is composed of living cultures and is high in fat, so it is prone to absorbing the flavours of other food in the fridge. To avoid this (and other nasties like mould), keep your cheese wrapped and stored in a container. Cheddar doesn't technically doesn't have a shelf life so you can maintain its quality by storing it this way.

9. Cheese is a dish best room temperature?

Most people would assume that you should take your cheese out of the fridge and onto a platter when you're about to serve it. However, in order to taste the full flavour of the cheese, it's actually best served at room temperature. So make sure you take your cheese out of the fridge 30 minutes prior to serving. A good tip is to cover the cheese in a damp kitchen towel to prevent the cheese drying out. Also, it's one less thing to have to worry about when your friends arrive!

Cheese doesn't have to be served before the main meal. In fact, I prefer to have cheese after dinner with a glass of wine and good conversation. Cheese has a high fat content, so if you have it before your meal you're likely to be too full to finish. Which, for many chefs, is the height of insult!

10. By all means try lots of cheeses...but cleanse your palate in between

For the cheese lovers who are sampling every variety on your platter, make sure you include some slices of apple in your spread or celery . Apples and celery act as a great palate cleanser, and ensures that the flavours of the different cheeses don't compete against each other. Quince paste also serves this purpose, but as discovered, people now enjoy it as a cheese accompaniment so I say, let them have their cheese and eat it too!

As well as using Dave's tips for plating up the perfect platter this Christmas, why not wow your guests with another addition - Cracker Barrel's new release special edition cheddar, Vintage 44 .

As a result of being matured for 44 months (double the standard cheddar), Vintage 44 has a punchier, more complex flavour profile than other cheddars and is something that will impress even the most avid cheese monger.

But, unlike your new found knowledge of how to plate up, Vintage 44 won't stick around - available over the festive season in Woolworths stores or until stock runs out, RRP $6.99.

Before ending this post, I like to thank Warrnambool Cheese and Butter and Red Agency for inviting Dave and me to attend this fun and fruitful event. These cheeses and wines are beautiful! I like to make a disclaimer here that I'm not paid to write about this event and hope that the readers can learn these valuable knowledge too.

Please support me and like me at Facebook...

This post is linked at Cook and Celebrate: Christmas 2015 hosted by Yen from GoodyFoodies, Diana from The Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids at here.


  1. Thanks for the tips, Zoe! What an awesome event. :D

  2. This post is such a useful one ...gonna bookmark it

  3. Hi Zoe,
    Though I'm not a cheese lover, ... agree that'Behind every good cheese, there's a good wine!' ... thanks for the tips.