The Best Cheese Platter Ideas for Wine Lovers
A guide to the best cheeses for a wine tasting party
Wine and cheese pairing is serious business in Wine Country. Over the 15 years that I’ve lived in Sonoma County, I’ve probably consumed my weight in cheese while sipping on a glass of wine at home, at work or at other winery tasting rooms. The wine and cheese pairing “research” we’ve undertook with our chef and associate winemaker at Jordan Winery—both for finding the best cheeses for pairing with cabernet sauvignon and determining which cheeses pair with chardonnay—has helped us fine-tune our list of cheeses for serving at a wine tasting. We’ve pulled together our wine and cheese tasting notes from several years to create the best cheese platter ideas for wine lovers, with recommendations on where to buy each gourmet cheese online. These are some of the best selections to bring to a party, especially a wine tasting where Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is being served.
The Ultimate Cheese Platter Ideas for Wine
Recommended Goat Cheeses
Fresh chèvre is a challenging pairing with most tannic red wines, but it’s bright acidity complements crisp whites, Champagne and other sparkling wines. Aged goat’s milk cheeses have the creamy texture to stand up to merlots, cabernets and other fuller-bodied red wines.
Central Coast Creamery Goat Gouda
This goat’s milk cheese from Paso Robles, California, has a soft, creamy texture that helps expand the mid-palate on leaner, more elegant Bordeaux-style wines, like the 2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cypress Grove Midnight Moon
Northern California’s Cypress Grove works with a dairy in Holland to make Midnight Moon, following a traditional Dutch gouda recipe. Aged for at least one year, this firm goat cheese has nutty, buttery flavors upfront with a long, caramel finish. As the cheese ages, protein crystals form, lending a slight crunch to the otherwise smooth cheese. Aged goat cheese is rich and savory enough to bring out the fruit flavors in different styles of cabernet sauvignon. This is one of the best cheeses for softening cabernet’s tannins too. Learn more about which Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon vintages this cheese pairs best with.
Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor
Made in Northern California’s Humboldt County by Cypress Grove, Truffle Tremor is a slightly creamy goat cheese, which contradicts our general rule about pairing chèvre with cabernet. Why does this cheese and wine pairing work? Truffle Tremor is made with small pieces of black truffles—the prized fungi that has earthy, mushroomy and savory notes—which bring out the fruit in both old and young cabernets. It elevates the dried herb notes and fruit flavors in cool-climate vintages, such as the 2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recommended Sheep’s Milk Cheeses
Sheep’s milk cheese has a firmer texture, more flavor complexity and an almost nutty note—all of which complement the structure and finish of a cabernet sauvignon. Sheep’s milk cheeses also often possess a subtle gamey note that complements the natural dried herb notes in cabernet, making them a perfect cheese platter idea.
Bellwether Farms San Andreas
Crafted in Tuscany’s Pecorino style, San Andreas is a raw sheep’s milk from the Pacific Coast in Sonoma County. Smooth and creamy in texture, this semi-firm cheese is aged at least three months and has a mild, tangy flavor with floral, grass and nutty undertones. Named for the earthquake fault line that runs near the coastal farm. San Andreas pairs well with both young and older cabernets, balancing the acidity and elevating the finish.
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Bleating Heart Fat Bottom Girl
The flagship cheese for husband-wife duo Dave Dalton and Seana Doughty, Fat Bottom Girl is approachable and appealing. The straw-colored rind is achieved by careful hand-rubbing with a salt water solution during the three-to-four month aging period. This raw sheep’s milk cheese is slightly nutty and buttery with a touch of salt. It makes for a neutral pairing with different vintages of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon—the cheese and wine both hold their own without creating a flavor explosion in your mouth. Neutral pairings are often desired for wine and cheese tasting.
Central Coast Creamery Ewenique
Central Coast Creamery, located in Paso Robles, emphasizes local and artisanal in their small-batch production, using only rBST-free California cow’s milk and goat milk from a local farm. Ewenique is hand-crafted sheep’s milk cheese aged a minimum of four months and features a smooth, delicate texture. The flavor is earthy and sweet, with a savory, rich finish, allowing it to pair with both older and younger Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon vintages.
Made by Agour in the traditional craftsmanship of Basque country, Ossau-Iraty is a sheep’s milk cheese made from the raw, unpasteurized milk of ewes in two neighboring provinces of the French Pyrénées mountains on the France-Spain border. Aged four to six months, this semi-firm cheese balances salty and sweet flavors with a grassy, nutty character that complements cabernet.
Recommended Cheddar Cheeses
No cheese board is complete without cheddar. The aging process in making fine cheddar cheese gives it a rich, nutty flavor and slight crunch to complement the famous cow’s milk cheese’s smooth texture. These characteristics highlight the dark fruit notes in both young and older cabernet sauvignons, and the wine’s tannins bind to the cheese’s protein and fat to cleanse the palate.
Fiscalini Cheese Company Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar
Named “Best Farmhouse Cheese in America” by the American Cheese Society, the Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar continues to be cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez’s most popular cheese. Carefully wrapped in traditional cheese cloth, this cow’s milk cheddar is hand-turned for the first few months of its life and aged for 14 months before release. It has a dense, round texture with more nutty, smoky and earthy characteristics than most aged cheddars. We have yet to find a style of cabernet sauvignon that doesn’t pair well with this cheese.
Fiscalini Cheese Company San Joaquin Gold
Fiscalini Cheese Company uses only cow’s milk from the family’s dairy farm located next door to craft this fine cheese, named after the rich San Joaquin Valley in Northern California where it is produced. Surrounded by a natural, thin rind with a buttery color, its flesh is firm with an aroma of toasted nuts and browned butter. Aged for 16 months, this cheddar-like cheese has a mildly sweet and mellow flavor. The crunchy protein crystals, pleasant acidity and balanced salt combine to complement the fruit nuances in older vintages of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
A family dairy in England that dates back to the late 1800s, Keen’s is proud to milk their own herd of 250 grass-grazing cows. This raw cow’s milk cheese is made in 30-pound wheels that are bound in cloth and aged for up to two years. Keen’s Cheddar has a nutty, savory flavor with earthy notes and a slight crunch. In our experience, it pairs well with different styles and ages of cabernet sauvignon, elevating fruit flavors and dried herb notes.
Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar
Kurt Beecher Dammeier opened Seattle’s first artisan creamery at the historic Pike Place Market in 2003. His signature cheese, Flagship is a cross between cheddar and Gruyère with a distinct, nutty flavor. This award-winning, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese is aged for 15 months to fully develop its robust flavors and crumble texture. Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar also creates a lovely wine and cheese pairing with different cabernets, brightening acidity, elevating dark fruits and softening red wine tannins.
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
Since 2003, Jasper Hill Farm has collaborated with Cabot Creamery to make a special selection of aged Vermont cheddar cheese. The young cheese is wrapped in a layer of cloth and constantly brushed, turned and monitored. Aged 9 to 14 months, this clothbound cheddar has a crumbly texture and nutty aroma with savory and tangy flavors. Younger vintages of oak-aged cabernet sauvignon pair best, and older vintages create a neutral pairing where both the wine and cheese and seamless together. An all-around crowd pleaser for cabernet lovers.
Westcombe Dairy Cheddar
The Brickell family has been making legendary cheddar for more than 100 years at Westcombe Dairy, located in the revered Somerset region of England. Aged for up to 18 months, this hard cheese is made with unadulterated, unpasteurized fresh Holstein-Friesian milk from cows living close to the dairy in lush pastures. It’s firm yet smooth with a delicious tanginess, notes of citrus, hazelnut and caramel and a lingering finish to match Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recommended Washed Rind Cheeses
Our cheese platter ideas for wine lovers extend into the softer side. Made in Europe since the Middle Ages, washed rind cheeses have a creamy, flavorful center hidden inside their outer layer. These cheeses have a rich, buttery flavor that typically pairs best with rich white wines or fruity red wines that are low in tannin and alcohol. (As a general rule, washed rind cheeses are some of the most challenging to pair with cabernet, but we’ve found a few that work with Jordan’s elegant style.) Champagne also makes a great pairing, as its zippy acidity cuts through the richness of the cheese.
Marin French Cheese Company Black Truffle Triple Crème Brie
Marin French Cheese Company, one of Northern California’s finest producers, creates this triple crème from pure, Italian Urbani truffles. It combines the sweet creaminess of rich, Jersey cow’s milk with the alluring earthiness of the “tartufi.” Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, this black truffle cheese’s earthiness and creamy texture complement the subtle dried herb notes and tannins in a young Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam
Named after the majestic Mt. Tamalpais in Northern California, Mt. Tam is Cowgirl’s most popular cheese. It combines organic cow’s milk and cream to create a smooth, yet dense texture. The triple cream cheese’s bloomy rind brings out the natural, earthy notes in more feminine cabernets, but this cheese is more often paired with Champagne or a crisp white wine.
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk
Red Hawk is another triple cream organic cow’s milk cheese that is aged four weeks and washed with a brine solution to create its orange rind. This full-flavored cheese is known for its pungent, beefy aroma and a rich, creamy texture—both of which can stand up to a fruity cabernet, as long as the wine doesn’t have a lot of tannins or isn’t above 14 percent alcohol, in our experience.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Loma Alta
Made on the Sonoma-Marin county border, this mild, buttery, semi-soft cheese pairs well with a crisp white wine like Jordan Chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc. In our tastings, Loma Alta cheese muted the fruit and over-accentuated the tannins in cabernet sauvignon.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Reserve
This family dairy was founded in 2010 and has become a local favorite. Nicasio Valley’s Reserve cow’s milk cheese has a rich flavor that can stand up to the full body of a young, masculine vintage like Jordan 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. But, in our wine tastings, this cheese overpowered the more elegant, older vintages of cabernet.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Locarno
Nicasio Valley also makes a soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese called Locarno. It’s the ultimate California cheese for sparkling wine lovers, as the cheese’s fat cuts beautifully through the bubbly’s sharp acidity. This cheese also elevates the mid-palate of old-world red wines that are more feminine in structure and have dried herb notes, like the 2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. A challenging pairing for young, bold cabernets.
Atika, named for the Native American Miwok word for “two,” is a blend of farmstead goat and sheep’s milk from the 160-acre dairy, organic farm and creamery in Tomales. The firm wheel boasts a beautiful, natural, brushed rind with a gentle flavor profile of nuts and grass, framed by a richness from the sheep’s milk.
Other Recommended Gourmet Cheeses
Valley Ford Cheese Co. Estero Gold
Estero Gold was the first cheese crafted by Karen Bianchi at Valley Ford Cheese in west Sonoma County. This Asiago-style cheese is made of cow’s milk and is named after the Estero Americano Creek, which runs adjacent to Valley Ford. When young, the cheese shows more grassy and fruity flavors and a smooth texture. As the cheese continues to age past six months, the flavors deepen and become more complex and nutty. In our experience, it pairs well with both young and old cabernets and Champagne, so makes our list of best cheese platter ideas.
Valley Ford Cheese Co. Highway 1
Valley Ford Cheese Co.’s farm has been family-owned and operated since the 1900s in Sonoma County. Crafted in the traditional Fontina style, Highway 1 is a silky, creamy cow’s milk cheese with sweet, delicate flavors. This unpasteurized cheese is mildly fruity with nutty accents, characterized by a minimum of 80 days of aging. We love how the creamy texture of this cheese brings out the fruit in young cabernet sauvignons.
Beemster 18-Month Aged Gouda
North Holland’s Beemster has been known for its dairies since the Middle Ages. The cows graze in pastures located 20 feet below sea level where soils rich in minerals and clay contribute to the sweet, creamy texture of this firm, caramel-colored cheese. This pasteurized cow’s milk gouda-style cheese is aged no shorter than 18 months, allowing it to develop a sharp, salty complexity with rich butterscotch notes. When paired with Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Beemster brings out dark fruit flavors and intensifies the overall depth and textural opulence of the wine.
Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve
One of the most awarded cheeses in American history, this Wisconsin cow’s milk cheese is made in an aged, alpine style. Like Gruyère, Pleasant Ridge is made only in summer months when the cows are grazing on fresh pasture, which gives the cheese its combination of sweet and savory, rich and salty flavors. This cheese has been served on the cheese plate at Jordan Winery dinner parties, paired with both old and young cabernets.
Essex Street Reserve Comté
Essex Street Cheese Company in New York sources some of Europe’s best cheeses to sate the palates of cheese-loving Americans. Hailing from France, Comté is known for its earthy, herbaceous and nutty flavors; it’s considered an ideal pairing with brut Champagne. The wine’s nutty flavor often creates a seamless pairing with mature cabernet sauvignons (about 10 years old), and its creamy texture complements the full body of younger cabernets.
Tomales Farmstead Creamery Teleeka
Teleeka, named for the Native American Miwok word for “three,” is a blend of farmstead goat, sheep and cow’s milk from the 160-acre dairy, organic farm and creamery in Tomales. This buttery, creamy soft-ripened cheese is rich with deep earthy afternotes.