This is part of a series of monthly posts called EAT & DRINK In The Northwest. The series is written by Marcus Pape and Melissa Peterman, authors of books by the same name. Read more about the series here.

EAT & DRINK In The Northwest

When it comes to holiday gatherings, there is no offering more coveted in my opinion than the cheese tray. Whether it’s specifically for pairing with wine or just another accompaniment, there are a few tips to know before setting out any old cheese selection.

Cheese Tray Tips

Choose a variety of cheeses made from a variety of milks: cow milk, goat milk and sheep’s milk.

Think color. You don’t want all your cheeses to be cream or white colored. There are several gorgeous blue cheeses, bright cheddars, wine-soaked rinds and yellow goudas.

Allow cheeses to come to room temperature before serving, approximately 25 minutes. Soft cheeses need to be served soft. When cheese is cold, just like wine, the true flavors are hidden.

With anything salty, it’s always nice to pair it with something sweet. Add seasonal fruit, jam or mostarda to balance out the flavors as well as bring out the subtleties from the cheese. Many people add honey or even a lovely honeycomb for a show stopping presentation.

Think wine. If you are building a holiday cheese plate, you may be pairing it with deeper reds. That may lend you to more blue style cheeses, or other aged or richer styles like Camembert.

Provide a variety of “vehicles” for the cheese, like soft bread, crackers and pita chips. Nothings more sad than a gorgeous gooey brie with nothing to smear it on.

For a tasty and colorful twist to stark white goat cheese, you can mince a variety of fresh herbs and roll your goat cheese roll through it. Great to do it with spices, nuts or simple black pepper.

Lastly, presentation. There are so many lovely cheese trays, slate boards and granite slabs out there to show off your cheeses. For a nice wine themed tray you may even want to look into an oak barrel end.

Pairing Cheese & Wine

Cheese is one of the oldest and most common pairings with wine. When paired successfully, they can both do their part to bring out the best in each other. Just like wine, cheese comes in hundreds, if not thousands, of variations from body, flavor, smell, color and age. But with so many options for both cheese and wine the pairing decisions can be intimidating.

When pairing cheese with wine the first thing to remember is that if it tastes good do it! But of course not all wines taste good with all cheeses. Some flavorful cheeses can obliterate the wine they are paired with, making it taste flat and thin, and vice versa. So, even though it comes down to personal taste there are some general guidelines that may help the process. The following pairing suggestions provide a good place to start for pairing cheese and wine.

Cheese: Blue Cheese

Recommended Wines: Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Port

Featured WA Wine: Hogue Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine is ripe and fruity on the palate with a touch of clove, cinnamon, and lavender.

Cheese: Camembert or Brie

Recommended Wines: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sparkling Wine

Featured WA Wine: Mountain Dome Non-Vintage Brut, Washington

This wine is soft and appealing with its pepper, pear and spice flavors.

Cheese: Goat Cheese

Recommended Wines: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir

Featured WA Wine: DiStefano Winery Sauvignon Blanc

Flavors of pears, white peaches, and green apple with a touch of lemon peel and lime in the background.