One of my favorite go-to books for planning a cheese board is Janet Fletcher’s Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying (Chronicle Books, 2006). It’s not a comprehensive book by any means, but it’s inspiring – full of beautiful photos, interesting cheese selections from artisanal makers in the U.S. and abroad, and helpful pairing notes.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the world of wine and cheese – so many kinds, what to offer? I like that Fletcher’s book actually suggests a series of thematic cheese boards – a trio of Spanish cheeses, French classics, new world vs. old world cheddars – and she profiles each cheese separately, so that you actually have a set of tasting notes to guide you. She also provides an easy-to-follow chart in the back of the book on how to pair wines with cheese, so that if you pick up a washed rind at the store (a Morbier, or a Taleggio, say), you can quickly determine that a Pinot Gris or even a Riesling would be appropriate.
From Fletcher I’ve learned to follow my nose, and my eye. I like to group cheeses, combining the mild with the heady. So, on a recent cheese board, I started with a mild Mahon, moved to a medium-bold Gaperon, and finished with a strong but sweet blue Valdeón. I also like to mix cheeses of different textures, starting with a creamy goat or a weepy washed rind and moving toward a hard aged gouda or aged cheddar.
The key is to vary flavor, aroma, and texture, so that the tastebuds are enlivened with each new cheese, and when you choose a wine, you want to create harmony among the different tastes. Fletcher offers some good rules of thumb: “For delicate wines, choose delicate cheeses.” She also suggests off-setting salty cheeses (blues, for example) with sweeter wines to create a teeter-totter effect on the tongue. For heavy triple-crèmes: light, bubbly champagne or Prosecco.
Janet Fletcher has written a number of books on cheese (she also has a web site of her food columns, The Cheese Course, from the San Francisco Chronicle), but this book is my favorite. Whenever I leave it on my coffee table, people always feel compelled to pick it up and leaf through it. Soon, my guests are mewling over the photos, which gives me time to duck into the kitchen and rustle up a little wine and some cheese.