Advice on Cheese Course to end a meal

I recently got this inquiry from a fellow chef, and thought I’d share it with you:

Hi Mark, I’m hoping to pick your brain for a minute. I have a dinner party for two. 6th anniversary. She wants to do a cheese coarse at the end of the meal instead of a dessert. Do have any suggestions on three or four cheese that would go with a nice port wine? They seem to have a very educated palate.

This meal I’m doing is also going to be paired with wines. I think that with the port and cheese there will be three or four other courses. Starting with caviar, Then maybe scallops, a spinach salad with pine nut, dried cranberries and balsamic viniagrette, A duck course. I’m going to push for the green pepper and morel sauce from The Gilded Fork, sounds great, with Wild Rice pilaf and Proscuitto wrapped asparagus. Cheese is dessert.

I can get to a whole foods or a international farmers market that carries a large selection of cheese. Any help would be great. I came to you since visiting the Gilded fork web site, and I was very impressed with the sound of the various menus. Thanks for any help.

This was my reply:

Hi Chef, without knowing the specific Port they are drinking (whether it’s a Vintage or Ruby), in general you need to pick strong cheeses to pair with it, since it’s a fortified wine.

The “Stinky” cheeses tend to do well with port. I would definitely choose a Stilton, especially if you can get your hands on a real Stilton (and preferably unpasteurized, unless she’s pregnant).

I generally like to have a variety of cheeses that will progress, so I would choose a Manchego and also serve some membrillo with it (quince paste or the firmer block of membrillo). I would also choose a La Fourme d’Ambert, which is a bit tangy, as well as a soft full flavored goat cheese.

If you want to give them something unusual, try an Irish Porter Cheese. It’s cheddared using Guiness or other stout beers. I’ve never had it with port, but it may make for an interesting pairing. If they really want a great cheese course experience, they will do a tasting of several wines with the cheeses, ones that pair specifically to each cheese. But since it’s just two people, that’s unlikely. I would just have them start with the lighter cheeses, and to hold off on the port until they get to a cheese that will stand up to it, or else it will completely overpower the milder cheeses.

Good luck with this. I’m doing a similar cheese course for an upcoming birthday dinner, although it’s at the end of a multi-course tasting menu, and he’s pairing a wine with each course. Let me know how it goes.

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