Host an Eco Wine & Cheese Party
HOW TO SHOP
At the cheese counter: Look for artisanal (handmade) and farmstead (handcrafted entirely on one farm) cheeses; they're produced from minimally processed milk, which contains beneficial bacteria and digestion–aiding enzymes. (In the U.S., raw milk cheeses are aged at least 60 days to avoid contamination from the bacteria Listeria.)
Pick five cheeses. "Five is perfect—not too few, but not so many that it overwhelms the palate," says Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers in New York City. Buy an ounce of each cheese per person.
Choose different textures. Pick soft and hard cheese made from two of the three different milks (cow's, sheep's, and goat's) in increasing levels of pungency.
At the wine shop: Look for organic and/or biodynamic wines, which are produced using low–impact farming methods. Not all sustainable wines are labeled as such; you can be sure a wine is green if it's distributed by Louis/Dressner, Mad Rose Group (Rosenthal Wine Merchant), Michael Skurnik, or Kermit Lynch—companies that specialize in eco–friendly wines.
Buy two bottles each. For a party of ten, two bottles of each type (see our wine list on page 16) will give you enough wine for tasting and for enjoying afterward.
Try a European wine. If you can't find a sustainable American one, this is a good option. Old World vintners have a history of producing wines without pesticides, which helps justify the shipping.
HOW TO SET UP
Cheeses: Take them out of the fridge 90 minutes before the party to let them reach room temperature and full flavor. Arrange them on a serving tray from mildest to most pungent.
Wines: Take chilled whites out 15 minutes before serving and open the others a full hour ahead so they can "breathe" and release their flavors fully. Pour about two ounces of wine per person and sip them in order from lightest to most intense. Provide individual, non–transparent cups to pour or spit out wines, and rinse glasses after each tasting with the next wine you're pouring.
HOW TO TASTE
Cheeses: Unless the cheese is gooey, try it first with no accompaniment, or with a baguette slice or unsalted water cracker. Notice how the flavors and textures differ depending on the age of the cheese and the type of milk it's made from.
Wines: Tilt the glass to see the wine's color—darker suggests more aging, which may mean a smoother, more complex taste. Swirl it to let in more oxygen then sniff it to detect different aromas. Finally, sip and notice what flavors emerge.
Pairing: Sample the wines and cheeses together (using the guide below, pair wine #1 with cheese #1, and so forth) and notice how they enhance each other's characteristics.