Nothing says “holidays” quite like a beautiful cheese board accompanied by great wine!
It’s a classic pairing that can be as simple as cheese and crackers or as elaborate as a board overflowing with cheesy goodness and colorful accents. But for many of us, approaching the cheese section of any store can be overwhelming and downright confusing! You know you can count on District Winery to provide you all the wine you need, but for this special project, we’re pleased to be partnering with FireFly Farms and their cheesemonger Jesse Galdston for an expert’s advice on all things cheese!
Since 2002, FireFly Farms has been making sustainably-produced, locally-sourced goat cheeses in a traditional method. All of FireFly Farms’ goat milk is sourced from local farmers within a 30 mile radius of their Western Maryland creamery, and turned into fresh cheese without additives, preservatives or stabilizers. Now you can get FireFly Farms cheese delivered straight to your door, so make sure to shop as you read!
Read on for Jesse’s pairing recommendations to some of District Winery’s most popular wines, and his advice on curating the perfect holiday cheeseboard!
Wine and Cheese Pairing Recommendations
A rich, creamy cheese is the perfect accent to our bright, bubbly sparkling wine. Jesse suggests a Brie-style cheese such as FireFly Farms Bloomy Breeze or a mild washed rind cheese like Langrés. “The cheese even has a dimple on top to hold a small pour of champagne before consuming,” Jesse notes. How festive!
Our Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay has the rich flavors of oak and butterscotch with a balanced acidity. A fresh goat cheese like FireFly Farms Merry Goat Round is a creamy option that plays well against the wine’s structure and acidity. “I’m a big believer that matching acidity is a reliable and enjoyable pairing strategy,” Jesse says.
In contrast to the Chardonnay’s bold flavor profile, our Rosé is refreshing, crisp and delicate. This is an excellent example of the versatility of goat cheese, as Jesse suggests a similar, fresh goat cheese option for this wine as well. “Crisp acidity with light fruit and minerality is a natural ally with bright, clean-tasting tangy fresh goat’s milk cheeses.”
With dark red fruit flavors and notes of black pepper, green bell pepper and cocoa, our Cabernet Franc is a bold wine that requires a bold cheese to match. “My first choice would be a rich cow’s milk blue cheese such as FireFly Farms Moo & Blue,” suggests Jesse. “The spiciness of blue cheese will pair well with the peppery wine.” If blue cheese isn’t quite your thing, Jesse notes that a high-fat sheep’s milk cheese like Manchego or Pecorino would play nicely with the wine’s natural acidity.
Our Malbec is a bold red that presents strong fruit flavor at the start, with an earthy finish. Jesse suggests something funky, fruity and strong to go along with this heavy hitter. “I’d suggest a cheese with a bit of body to it, such as FireFly Farms Cabra La Mancha or Taleggio from Italy,” he says. “This will help coat your mouth to balance the earthiness and allow the fruit in the wine to shine. If washed rinds aren’t your thing, a good option would be an aged traditional clothbound cheddar.”
Big fruit flavor, jammy qualities and a peppery finish characterize this classic Zinfandel. Jesse suggests an aged cow’s milk cheese which is traditionally paired with black cherry and plum, two flavors you’ll find a lot of in this bottle. “With this wine, I’d go with either an aged cow’s milk cheese, such as Comté or Gruyere or a Pyrenees sheep milk cheese like Ossau Iraty.” The inherent sweetness from the fruit and tangy cheese will create a perfect harmony on the palate.
Q&A on Creating the Perfect Cheese Board
Q: Cheese boards can be intimidating if you’ve never made one before! How do you like to start planning a board?
A: “First, take a deep breath. This should be fun, don’t let it stress you out. Next, remember that there are no rules. If you love potato chips, put some potato chips on that board. If you want to try brie with gummy bears, try it!
Now, in terms of actually building a board, I like to think of my cheeses as anchor points and build out from there. I use my accompaniments to create whatever design suits my mood at the time. Sometimes that’s a geometric pattern, sometimes it’s pretty wavy lines, sometimes it’s mounds of things that are colorful. I let my energy level be my guide, because again, this should be fun!”
Q: What are some festive holiday elements you could add to a cheese board?
A: “I think candy canes would look fantastic on a board. That sweet, lightly minty flavor would be delicious with any number of soft-ripened cheeses. Another option would be gelt for Hanukkah paired with a mild blue cheese (plus the gold wrapping would make it a stunner on a board!). Chocolate and blue cheese is a great pairing! Blue and white, mixed with gold, is a classic Hanukkah color palette. As far as savory elements go, grab some red and green antipasti to bring a Christmas vibe to the design side of the board.”
Q: How do you like to prep and assemble your cheese plate? For example, when should you take the cheese out of the fridge, should it be sliced, which accompaniments go where?
A: “Whether you slice or cut the cheese(s) into shapes is entirely up to you. Remember, the longer cheese sits in slices, the more it will precipitate and eventually dry out. I tend to portion the cheese when I think there’s a good chance the entire board will be eaten and leave the cheese whole or in larger chunks when I think there is a good chance of leftovers.
If I’ve decided to cut the cheese into smaller portions, I prefer to cut when it’s cold. I take my cheese out right before I cut it and try to prep my board at least an hour ahead of time. It’s important that the cheese come to room temperature before being served to experience all the flavors and aromas. I slice most of my cheeses in a way that allows me to make interesting shapes and patterns on a board, by varying the shapes of my slices (e.g. triangles/wedges, matchsticks, crumbles, etc.).
In terms of accompaniments, you really can choose your own adventure as far as placing them on the board. There is a natural push and pull between aesthetics and flavor given that many people assume that things placed next to each other are meant to be paired together. In other words, those pickled peppers that bring great color when placed next to your white/beige brie are likely to be eaten with brie!”
Q: What are your favorite FireFly Farms cheeses?
A: “My all-time favorite FireFly Farms cheese is our goat’s milk blue, Black and Blue. It’s relatively unique in that it expresses the natural sweetness of goat’s milk, not just the more common acidity. It hits you with front-end sweetness before giving way to some pleasing spiciness from the blue. All that said, the cheese of ours that I most often consume is our fresh goat cheese. It’s bright and tangy and super clean. I eat it in sandwiches, salads, on crackers with a nice honey, even with candy (seriously, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it with caramel!).”