Wine And Cheese -- Appetizers Alternative

For your next holiday get together, instead of making all those hors d'oeuvres, why not throw a wine and cheese tasting party? It's a lot of fun -- and less work!

Cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie shared ideas and recipes on The Early Show Tuesday.

She was in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

There are so many wonderful artisanal cheeses available now, wine and cheese tasting parties make perfect sense. And they're a lot easier than preparing a whole bunch of appetizers and cocktails.

The first thing is to choose a theme. A great place to start is with a region or country: Italian, Spanish, French, American; you could even do all Vermont or all New York. Consider a selection of American wines and cheeses, since they're better now than ever.

Supplies

Have cheese boards and assorted knives, which can be bought separately or as sets; a good, serrated knife to cut bread; a selection of wine glasses, including an all-purpose red and white (you can always rent glasses if you need to), unless you're doing one specific variety; wine decanters, if you're featuring older red wines with sediment; and more than one corkscrew, so people can help you pull corks.

Selecting Cheeses

Talk to a good cheese-monger, who can guide you on your selections and recommend wines to pair. There are lots of great books on the topic. You can also order pre-selected cheese samplers from many vendors. A good general rule for cheese tastings is to assemble a range of textures, shapes and milk sources: firm, semi-soft, creamy, blue-veined; wheels, pyramids, wedges; cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses.

American Cheese Selection

For eight people, plan on two pounds assorted cheeses, about 1/2 pound of each of four kinds (use three-to-five kinds, max).

Cheese & Wine Pairing Examples

Oakvale Gouda with a Cabernet Sauvignon
Shepherd's Logue with Zinfandel
Wabash Cannonball with late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Pt. Reyes Original Blue with Viognier or ruby port

Have a few types of breads to go along, including a baguette and a walnut loaf; some honeys to show for drizzling over; and some sliced fresh pears and apples, as well as roasted almond and date spread.

RECIPE

Roasted Almond and Date Spread


When available, use pitted Medjool dates, which are meatier and sweeter than other varieties. Roasted pistachios or pecans can be used in place of the almonds. Accompany with bread and assorted cheeses. If desired, make a double batch of this spread and freeze half of it. The spread will keep for up to two weeks.

1/2 cup unsalted roasted whole almonds
1 package pitted dates
1/4 cup Madeira or dry sherry
Zest of 1 orange
Breads for serving
Cheese for serving

In a food processor, combine the almonds, dates, Madeira and orange zest. Pulse until the almonds are finely ground and the mixture is almost smooth. The spread can be prepared up to this point, transferred to a container, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Let the spread come to room temperature before serving.

When ready to serve, transfer the spread to a small serving bowl. Set the bowl alongside the breads and cheeses.

Serves 8.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Easy Entertaining," by George Dolese (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(Simon and Schuster, like CBSNews.com, is part of the CBS Corporation.
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