At the risk of sounding cheesy (we know...), we’ve often believed that an excellent cheese board is the beating heart of any party. It’s the communal place that we consistently find all of our friends and family gathered around, sampling bites, chatting, and sharing with each other throughout the evening. Our suspicions were confirmed many times over by Caroline Shifflett, a Napa-raised cheese lover and frequent hostess who never throws a party without an effortlessly-done cheese board.
As the author of the incredible entertaining, food, and wine-driven blog Chardonnay Moi, Caroline has traveled the world in search of the most incredible cheeses, which she brings back and shares with her loved ones over a communal meal (and trust us, there is always chardonnay involved). Read on to learn about how you, too, can create the ultimate cheese board for your next soiree.
Where did your passion for entertaining come from? And more specifically, how did you come to love cheese so much?
My passion for entertaining really stems from my love of bringing people together to share in the communal experience of a meal. I love food and love sharing that with others through hosting and entertaining. Oddly enough, I didn’t eat cheese (or anything that had touched cheese) for the first 20 years of my life. I hated cheese! It was a gradual love affair that began as a study abroad student in Florence, Italy. I started with the hard, salty cheeses (parmesan, pecorino) that tasted so much better than anything I had experienced in the States. In the 12+ years since, I’ve grown to love all but blue cheese (I just can’t get there with blue cheese!).
What are your favorite cheeses for putting together in the ultimate cheese board?
Ideally you want a mixture of flavors and textures. 1-2 aged, hard cheeses like gouda, comte or manchego, 1-2 semi-firm like fontina or goat cheese, and 1-2 ooey gooey explosions! My favorites for the ooey-gooey being Brillat-Savarin or St. Andre. I’m a huge fan of the funk that comes with ash-rined cheeses, so my semi-firm choice is almost always Humbolt Fog or an ash-covered pyramid called Valencay. I think it’s also important to mix up the different milks with a variety of sheep, goat, and cow cheeses.
What are your hacks for making the best cheese board for our next party?
Plan for about 3 oz. of cheese per person, and I like to choose 3-5 different cheeses to mix and match. Don’t forget the accoutrements! I love adding fresh or dried fruit, cornichons, olives, mixed nuts (marcona almonds are a fave) and your favorite crackers or fresh baguette slices. For extra stinky cheeses, a sweet fig jam can be a nice compliment.
Where do you go to try new cheeses, and where do you buy your cheese locally?
I’ve come to love sampling regional cheeses throughout my travels around France: comte in the Jura, washed rind cheese from an abbey in Burgundy, Munster in Alsace, or fresh goat cheese straight off the farm in Provence. Closer to home, there are fabulous farms that sell locally made cheese at the NYC Greenmarkets, and Murray’s on Bleecker street will work with you to sample until they’ve nailed your taste preference!
How do you shape the rest of your meal around a cheese board?
Isn’t cheese the meal??!! If you do want a little something extra, I love to accompany a cheese board with cured meats and a simple side salad to round things out.
How do you decide what wine to pair with the cheese?
I love to say that food and wine pairings are all about whatever tastes good to you! But it’s truly special when the wine and the food and the overall experience is heightened by eating them in tandem. Wine and cheese are a classic, the fat, buttery cheese is the perfect antidote to crisp whites or meaty reds, the original “party in the mouth”! A good rule of thumb is “what grows together goes together”! it’s all about your taste preferences and what tastes good to YOU. But a few general suggestions for classic pairings: Sancerre and fresh goat cheese, Prosecco and Parmesan, Chardonnay and Gruyere, Beaujolais or rosé and feta, Cabernet Sauvignon and aged Gouda, Pinot Noir and brie, port or Sauternes and blue cheese.
We’re dying to know - what’s in the fridge of a wine and cheese maven?
Always a bottle of Champagne - you never know when an occasion to celebrate will pop up! Another bottle or two of white wine.Cured meats, veggies, greens and eggs from the Greenmarket, always.
What are your go to spots in NYC for:
Coffee: Jack’s or Toby’s
Breakfast: Buvette (get the waffle egg sandwich)
Lunch: Spotted Pig
Dinner: Via Carota
Drinks: Air’s Champagne Parlor
If you could invite 7 people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would that be?
It would have to be 8 people, the Spice Girls and the Hanson brothers to fulfill all of my childhood dreams!