NYE Champagne and Cheese Primer

Many of our national holidays are defined by a specific food. Thanksgiving is the turkey holiday. Independence Day is the hot dog holiday. But New Year’s alone is the holiday that is defined by a drink. That drink, of course, is Champagne. Well, let’s say sparkling wine, since we cheese people can certainly sympathize with sensitivities toward the misappropriation of names with protected geographical status. You may be drinking Cava, or Prosecco, or Crémant—technically, none of those are Champagne.

The point of the New Year’s beverage isn’t about where it’s sourced from, though. It’s about what it tastes like. So long as your wine has a good effervescence to it, you’re doing it right. And since there’s so much variation in sparkling wines, there’s naturally going to be variation in which cheeses you want to be pairing with. So we’ve put together this primer as a way of discussing how to do sparkling wine and cheese pairings the right way.

Champagne Cheese Sparkling Wine New Year's Eve Party Celebration

Generally, we can break things down by level of sweetness. Take a look at the label for hints on the sugar content of your vintage. Drier wines will have the word Brut, medium-dry ones will say Seco or Sec, and the sweeter stuff will be denoted by the word Doux or Dolce. We could get into the micro-degrees on this spectrum as well, but we’ll leave that for another time. Let’s focus on those three distinctions.

If you have a Brut-style wine, you’ll want a cheese that is luscious, soft, and super indulgent. The acidity and effervescence of the wine will work to swashbuckle through the richness of the cheese. The classic pairings here are your triple-cremes: Brillat-Savarin is always a crowd pleaser, as are Delice de Bourgogne and Cremeux de Bourgogne. If you’re looking for something made stateside, New York’s Champlain Valley Triple Cream and Vermont’s Nettle Meadow Kunik are the ways to go.

A sparkling wine that is semi-dry wants a cheese that is semi-indulgent. It should still be creamy and rich, but not at such heights as a triple-creme. A Chevre D’Argental would do particularly well with a seco, as would the ever-reliable Camembert Fermier.

Sparkling wines with higher sugar contents are usually fruity and juicy. Therefore, you’ll want a cheese that goes well with sweet, fruity, berry-type flavors. There are plenty of styles that do just that. Valencay is both gooey and fudgy, with a nice bloomy rind to boot, and Taleggio works quite well if you’re looking to bring the funk. If you’re feeling indulgent—and after all, that’s the whole spirit of New Year’s Eve—Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor is decadent, tasty, and tasteful.

Bottle Aged/Biodynamic
Now, we did say three categories, but here’s a little bonus info for you. If your sparkling wine happens to be bottle aged, you can try opening up your selection to a broader range of flavors and textures. Bottle aged wines get fermented twice: once in the vat and then once in the bottle. That means they continue to evolve while under the cork. Often this makes for a drink that is funky and unfiltered, much like biodynamic wine. In these cases, the above rules still apply. But you can also do a big blue cheese like the holiday favorite Stilton, or go nuts with something alpine, like Annelies or L’Etivaz.

These are your rules of thumb. Again, no need to over-complicate things for your New Year’s bash—these few guidelines are all you need. Keep it fun, keep it simple, and when in doubt: the creamier the better.

Your New Year’s Eve Cheese and Meat Board

If you are reading this, it means you have just successfully completed a major holiday. Or at least endured it. Either way, you’re probably still feeling the effects in some way or another, perhaps as the aftereffects of a herculean cleaning effort or an incessant throbbing in your head that makes you vampirically sensitive to sunlight. But hey—you did it! Give yourself a pat on the back, if you can do so without throwing out your shoulder.

One of the challenges of the holiday season is that the occasions are anything but occasional—they come in quick succession. And it can be a tall order to maintain some sense of creativity in how you host a party or what you bring to the one you’re attending. With Christmas barely in the rear view, we imagine the last thing you want to do is start game planning New Year’s Eve. Listen: you don’t have to. We’ve already put the plan in place.

Over at our restaurant, Cheese Bar, we’re featuring a holiday cheese and meat board that has been on the menu for the past couple weeks. It is excellent, and it looks like this:

Murray's New Year's Eve Holiday Cheese Board Plate Platter

Murray's New Year's Eve Holiday Cheese Board Plate Platter

Murray's New Year's Eve Holiday Cheese Board Plate Platter

This holiday spread was developed by our veritable Cheese Bar mongers Michaela Weitzer and Ian Pearson. “We wanted to have something that’s very decadent,” says Michaela. That is, after all, the M.O. of New Year’s: decadence for the sake of it. This here’s what an NYE platter looks like when prepared by the pros.

Here’s a quick key of what we’re working with, along with some insider info from Michaela. A few of the items are exclusive to Cheese Bar, but we’ve got you covered with ways you can fill in those spots.

New Year's Eve Holiday Meat and Cheese Board Spread Plate

  1. Blueberry Balsamic Compote – Our Cheese Bar team makes this in-house by pickling blueberries and mixing them with a balsamic compote. That’s not an easy thing to pull off. What is easy to pull off is the lid from a jar of Murray’s Wild Blueberry Preserves or Strawberry Balsamic Preserves from our pals at Anarchy in a Jar.
  2. Rabbit Pate – Made out in the Bay Area by Fabrique Delices, masters of artisanal charcuterie. It’s “a very sweet meat on its own,” says Michaela, “so we wanted to put some acid with it.” Hence the blueberry balsamic compote, and hence the reason either of our readily available alternatives will make for a great pairing as well.
  3. Truffled Potato Chips – The idea behind these in-house chips is twofold: something decadently earthy and something dippable. Potter’s Onion Crisps hits both those marks with panache.
  4. Rush Creek Reserve – Per Michaela: “We wanted to feature a very special holiday cheese on there.” Nothing does that job quite like the highly seasonal, universally adored Rush Creek. It’s super gooey, which is why you want a crisp with dippability to go along with it.
  5. Prosciutto San Daniele – A customer favorite over at Cheese Bar. “Super buttery and really smooth,” says Michaela.
  6. L’Etivaz – Gruyere as it used to be. Hazelnutty and fruity with a trace of smokiness.
  7. Brûléed Chestnuts –Every time the Holiday Board is ordered, we torch a batch of chestnuts to bring out their sweetness. This is done as a way to play off those salty, nutty qualities in L’Etivaz. Basically, you’re looking for a large, darker nut with some caramelized properties. Murray’s Preserved Walnuts fit the bill wonderfully. They are cured whole, with a mix of cinnamon and allspice, and develop a rich taste and pliant texture.
  8. Lamb Ham – The idea behind this item was to include a smoked meat that’s a little different and a little more exotic than your traditional pork products. We only have it in our restaurant, but some duck prosciutto from Fabrique Delices is more than game.
  9. Stilton – “Stilton is such a holiday cheese,” says Michaela. Indeed, out in its homeland of England, Stilton is synonymous with holiday feasts. To take it to new levels of holiday-ness, Ian developed the final item on the board:
  10. Cranberry White Chocolate Ganache – It is, to use a technical term: super good. The idea behind this creation is that a sweet, candied pairing would make for the ultimate holiday bite. Short of spending New Year’s Eve at Cheese Bar (which you can! We’ll be open from 11am ‘til midnight), this flavor profile can be best approximated with the Murray’s Sundred Cranberries that Ian uses and a bar of Zotter Caramel Milk bar.

So, if you’re feeling some pain up in the ol’ noggin as you try to think your thoughts today, just take a breath and slow it down. Your New Year’s Eve spread is now one less thing you need to mull over. Of course, you don’t have to go whole hog (and rabbit and duck) on your own board; calibrate to the size of your crowd. At the very least though, a couple of these pairings will be their own causes for celebration on Sunday night.

But, you may ask, what about champagne? How does that fit into this pairing party? Check out the blog tomorrow, when we’ll have the relationship between champagne and cheese broken down and explained.

Til then, Cheesers.

Rush Creek Reserve Uplands Cheese Company

Thanksgiving Cheese Board On A Dime

Quality cheese with a story to tell doesn’t have to break the bank.

Few holidays are as food-focused as Thanksgiving, and that’s one reason we love it. Another reason we wait excitedly the whole year for T-Day is that it’s all about hitting pause, taking stock, and sharing gratitude. Sure, we love Turkey and pumpkin pie as much as the next guy, but it’s the time spent with family and friends—cooking, talking, and taking stock of our lives—that makes this meal a once-in-a-year experience. Without the ritual and meaning of Thanksgiving, it’s really just a huge dinner, right?

The same is true with cheese. Recently it was suggested that the only way to avoid dropping major coin on a platter is to blindly pluck a wedge of Camembert from a supermarket cold case, bake it for a few minutes, and then plop it on a plate beside some grapes and olives. We’re certainly not knocking those pairings—and who doesn’t love warm, gooey cheese? But there’s so much more you can do without breaking the bank. And just like a holiday meal tastes better because of the history behind it, a cheese tastes better when you know its story.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a delicious cheese board that’s easy on wallet without skimping on quality, flavor, or intrigue. Now, this is just one way to do it; your options know no limits, and we’re always here to help you navigate that bounty. We will say that there’s one primary rule of thumb, and it’s a good one: the name of the game is variety. What you want is a range of flavors and textures, meant to entice and delight the senses. We happen to think this is a pretty solid guide for food in general. Imagine your Thanksgiving dinner plate: you’re probably not eating turkey with a side of roast chicken, or mashed potatoes with a fistful of french fries (though if that’s your jam, don’t let us get in the way.) Same goes for a cheese board—a good one will demonstrate cheese in its wonderfully wide-ranging glory.

And so, without further ado: a selection of beautiful cheeses that will contribute to the edible (and otherwise) bounty of your Thanksgiving table, without burning a hole in your wallet.

Camembert Fermier

At Murray’s, we like to work in order from mild to wild, so let’s start with this here Camembert. We have nothing but love for this Frenchie, and it’s been in the game for quite some time. In 1797, a woman named Marie Harel was living in the village of Camembert when, according to legend, a priest from Brie gave her the recipe for his region’s famed fromage. She took it, made it her own, and Camembert cheese was born. If Brie is the popular kid at school, Camembert is its younger sibling with artsy tendencies and more personality. Both are pudgy and gooey under their tender, downy rinds. Where Brie can be decidedly mild, Camembert is a bit more pungent, with a buttery, toasty, ever so lactic quality that guests often find themselves coming back to again and again. It’s sturdy enough for baking, if you so desire, but it’s just as much of a crowd-pleaser when you let the cheese stand alone. ($10.99/8 oz. wheel)

Young Manchego

What you might notice first about Manchego is that lovely criss-crossy pattern on the rind. This is a nod to tradition—for centuries, the cheese was formed in baskets made of esparto grass, which would imprint a woven pattern onto the outside of the cheese, then forming into the rind. It is every bit an essential characteristic of this sheep’s cheese as its semi-firm texture and nutty flavor, which provide complementary contrast to your smooshier, creamier Camembert. ($8.99/8 oz.)


And now for some wildin’. Like with many cheeses named for their place of production, Stilton must be made according to a strict set of rules. Among those rules: the cheese must be unpressed, cylindrical in shape, and feature a naturally formed rind. Oh, also, it has to, well, taste like a Stilton. Which is to say: thick and fudgy, with a velvety crumble and a mineral tang. A proper Stilton like this one will sport an ivory-colored paste and a network of blue-green veining that imparts a piquant yet sweet pepperiness. It’s a textbook example of a punch-packing party cheese—big and bold while still being easy to enjoy. ($11.50/8 oz.)


Now that you’ve got your cheese selection covered, let’s talk about dressing your plate. Maybe you’re a chutney person, or perhaps you’re partial to roasted nuts. It’s all a matter of preference. One sure thing is that it’s always a good idea to have a vessel for the cheese. Around here, we are particularly fond of Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps, which have a seed-studded whole grain flavor that works with all three of the above cheeses. For a sweet, fruity counterpoint, membrillo is always a fave. It’s dense and chewy and a little sticky, but it has the rich, deep flavor of cooked quince with a light tang from a touch of lemon juice. Lay some on a cracker, top it with cheese, and you’ve got a flavor combo that’ll win any party. (Jan’s: $9.99; Membrillo: $7.99)

So there you have it, a whopping cheese plate that’ll keep costs in check while sparing no expense in the flavor department. As we said, this is just one of any number of combos. If you decide to create your own, here’s what we suggest: go visit your local cheesemonger. Think of him or her as your personal tour guide. In the same way you get more out of a trip to a museum or an historic landmark when you have an expert by your side, you’ll get a lot more out of your time in the Land of Cheese when you have someone walking you through the context of what you are encountering. This is one of the many reasons we’re so excited to have Murray’s counters across the country. Even if you would’ve grabbed the same cheeses on your own, your guests will enjoy them all the more when you include them in the ritual and heritage behind what they are eating. That, after all, is the spirit of a holiday meal.

Happy Thanksgiving, Cheesers!