Adam S. Montefiore


In western culture, cheese is normally part of a meal and there is usually a whole course devoted to cheese. The English will normally enjoy cheeses at the end of the meal, after the dessert. This would traditionally be accompanied by a glass of Port, the famous fortified wine from Portugal. The French will serve their cheeses after the main course and before the desserts. This enables the red wine served with the main course to be continued with the cheeses.

In countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands, cheese is often served at breakfast. This would also be true of Israel. The famed Israeli breakfast covers a large range of dairy products, where there are no problems of kashrut, (mixing milk and meat.) In countries like Greece & Spain, cheese will often be served as part of the mezze or tapas at the beginning of the meal.

In Jewish culture though, we do have a festival at which it is traditional to serve dairy products. This is at Shavuot, which gives the perfect opportunity to hold a cheese and wine party.

There is something satisfyingly rustic with having a meal of freshly baked, crusty bread, with a variety of cheeses and a carafe of wine. Have you ever enjoyed the experience of ordering what is called a Ploughman’s Lunch in an English pub

The phrase, ‘cheese and wine’ rolls off the tongue. They are natural partners like Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. There is a famous saying in the English wine trade: “Buy on an apple, sell on cheese.” This means an apple will show up the quality of wine as it is, faults and all, whereas cheese will make a wine more palatable. So when you are buying the wine, taste it with a slice of apple, but when you are selling it, provide cheese which will enhance the wines.

This does not mean that every wine goes with every cheese. For instance, there is regular misconception that red wine is the most natural partner to cheese, but there can be some awful clashes. Funnily enough, white wines can often go better and be more versatile.

The wine world is complicated enough. Well the cheese world is if anything even more complicated. There is such variety. Cheese may be strong flavored, fat, acidic or salty. It can be hard, soft, creamy or crumbly. It can be matured, pasteurized or unpasteurized; made from goat’s milk, cow, or sheep. President Charles de Gaulle once said: “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese And he was talking only about France!

However to prepare a cheese and wine party is relatively easy to do. You will need to decide if you want to go international or Israeli. There are plenty of good quality options here too. As a simple guide, I suggest you choose at least four different types of cheese as a minimum. These could be a hard cheese, a soft cheese, a goat’s cheese and a blue cheese. This is enough to give the necessary variety.

The hard cheese may be something like Emmental, Gruyère, Cheddar or Parmesan. The best wines to match with this will be a full bodied dry white wine like an oaked aged Chardonnay or medium bodied red, possibly made from Bordeaux varieties, (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot etc.)

In the same way the English add milk to lessen the tannin of the strong tea they drink, the cheese will soften the tannin of the wine. Remember an older, matured cheese will be tangier with a more pronounced acidity. If the cheese is older and more pungent, the wine needs to be more mature and less tannic to avoid a clash. For this you will need older vintages. Cheeses start bland and become stronger as they age. With wine it is the opposite. Older wines are less tannic and astringent.

The goat’s cheese could be a Chèvre. The options are endless because Israel excels in this category. There some wonderful Israeli goat’s cheeses from boutique dairies. They tend to have a strong goaty character, but can go with either white or red wines. However, the classic combination for a young goat’s cheese is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc, which is very aromatic, totally dry and with a sharp, refreshing acidity. An aged goat’s cheese will go better with a well-rounded, soft style Merlot.

The soft cheese, maybe a Brie or Camembert, or something similar. If this style of cheese is too young, it will be virtually tasteless, and your guest will wonder what all the fuss was about. However if it is older, and runny, it can be so pungent as to be too strong for any wine. A balance between the creaminess and the flavor is what is desired.

This is the hardest category to find a match. A creamy, fatty cheese will make most reds seem like water. The fat in the cheese will neutralize the tannin, but an oaky and tannic red wine will taste slightly metallic when these cheeses are ripe and runny.

A Brie or Camembert would best be served alongside a lightly oaked Chardonnay with good acidity. Or alternatively, a light unoaked red wine with lots of fruit, good acidity and no tannin is the best choice. A Beaujolais style red or entry level wine from one of the larger wineries would really be ideal.

The classic blue cheeses are Stilton and Roquefort. The match made in heaven is to drink them with sweet wine because the saltiness of the cheese and sweetness play a concerto of matching flavors in your mouth. Opposites attract. A quality dessert wine, (in Israel often made from Gewurztraminer or Muscat grapes), would be the perfect partner. Alternatively a port style fortified wine will also do the trick. The salt and sweetness contrast to enhance both cheese and wine. Tasting these together should be part of any course matching food and wine to illustrate the theory does sometimes work and that ‘one plus one can equal three.’

Salt accentuates tannin so the myth that red wine goes with all cheeses is shown to be most false when a red wine is matched with a blue cheese. Note that authentic Danish Blue and the strongest Gorgonzola may just be too strong to be wine friendly.

That only leaves us with the dessert to eat after the cheeses. Obviously this is likely to be …a cheesecake! No surprises there. The best wine to enjoy with the classic New York style of cheesecake is a fortified Muscat.

Serve the cheeses at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge in advance. Decorate the cheese platter with grapes, served cold from the fridge, chutney, with some walnuts and finally a few cut vegetables, like carrots and peppers of different colors. Celery also provides a crisp, refreshing partner to cheeses. Buy some crusty baguettes, which you can cut just before people arrive, and have some healthy crackers available too.

As for wines, we have to be practical. You can’t have available every option I have mentioned. However, for the absolute minimum, you need a dry white wine, a medium bodied red wine and a dessert wine. Provide one glass for everyone and you will have prepared the easiest party you have ever hosted.

Israeli cheeses are so good and have gone through a similar quality revolution to Israeli wines. We all love cheeses, but sometimes worry about eating too much cheese for health reasons. How lucky we are that the Jewish faith has catered for us with a festival where it is compulsory!

I recommend making the most of the opportunity with a smile!



Wedding season is approaching and planning for those special days is underway. A question every wedding organizer should decide at an early stage is, who is taking care of the wine I am sure for every simcha, there have been endless food tastings, with discussions down to the finest details. It always surprises me the attention the preparation of the menu receives, whereas with regard to wine, people seem happy to go with whatever the caterer offers.

However, the choice of wine can leave an impression and affect the enjoyment of your guests. So forgive me for giving a little focus to wedding wine here.

If it is your responsibility, you will need to consider a drink as an aperitif as guests arrive, the pre-ceremony drinks bar and then, last but not least, wine for the meal itself.

Ideally a sparkling wine should be served on trays by waiters moving amongst guests as they arrive. Champagne is the classic wine for the aperitif. However you don’t need to pay for real champagne which is expensive in Israel. There are Israeli sparkling wines and kosher imported sparkling wines at more convenient prices.

It is tempting for a wine lover to choose a bone dry sparkling wine because that is what they like. Remember for a function you are buying to satisfy the lowest common denominator of wine lovers. So a sparkling wine with a touch of delicate sweetness may be a better choice. (Confusingly ‘Extra Dry’ on the label will be sweeter than a sparkling wine described as Brut.)

What caterers love to do is add cassis to a sparkling wine to make a Kir Royal. This makes the sparkling wine sweeter, and it will certainly be a beautiful color. However, I can’t help thinking that any addition destroys the quality of the sparkling wine. When I receive a Kir Royal I always think they have done it to mask the quality of a pretty dire sparkling wine.

My advice is, if you want the sweetness, buy a sweeter sparkling wine and if you want the pretty color, buy a rosé. I am a fan of rosé sparkling wines for weddings. Their delicate, salmon pink color seems to be suitably romantic.

Many caterers and banqueting halls readily offer a sickly sweet, bubbly, soapy, often colorful liqueur cocktail before an event. Again, I suggest sticking to straight sparkling wine. Certainly bubbles have never been more popular.

You will need wine at the bar. Normally the wine offered will be the cheapest wine from a recognizable large winery, but the label will be unrecognizable, because it will only be used in function halls. It will normally be a red, maybe a Merlot and a white, which is often an Emerald Riesling.

The sensible choice is to rely on the house wine of the caterer which will automatically be the cheapest wine their negotiating skills could arrange. However if you are buying wine both for the bar, the aperitif and the meal, you can save bottles by choosing the same two wines to cover every situation. Cabernet Sauvignon and a semi dry Gewurztraminer may be an upgrade on the Merlot and Emerald Riesling.

The standard at most function halls, is to find a red wine sitting in the middle of your table, usually chilled. For a white wine, you have to ask the waiter, if you can find one. I certainly don’t mind if the red wine is cold. By the time it is drunk, it will be pleasantly chilled and refreshing, rather than too warm.

There is of course no reason why you should not upgrade the wines offered initially. You may choose a more expensive menu to give your guests better food. You can also ask to upgrade the wine to gain better value for your shekel.

There are creative options. I recently went to a wedding where a basic white wine was served in ice buckets on the tables. At a side table better quality red wines were available. The host was making a statement & complimenting his guests. What was interesting was that most were content with the wine on the tables. Only those that valued the expensive wines, & knew what they were, took the trouble to seek them out. This idea enabled the host to offer a far better wine, but waste the minimum bottles on those that would not appreciate it.

Just make sure, that if you bring you own wines that you don’t need to pay a corkage fee to the caterer, whose interest may be to push the wines that he is contracted to sell. You should also check you don’t need Mevushal wines (pasteurized wines).

I recently provided wine for a family wedding. All was arranged and delivered in advance. When I arrived, relaxed and ready to enjoy myself, my precious wines were nowhere to be seen. I asked where the wine was and was told the Rabbi did not allow it as it wasn’t mevushal! Of course no-one thought to let me know beforehand.

All was resolved after some screeching and wailing, but let my experience be a warning to you. No harm in checking in advance that your kosher wine is kosher…….if you see what I mean!

You should always ensure there is too much wine. It would be embarrassing to run out at your daughter’s wedding. However ensure that the caterer does not open all the bottles in advance (which happens too often) and then when you want to collect the unopened wine, there will be none.

Best choice are light, fruity red wines and an off dry white wines. How many bottles to buy I believe the average size of champagne flute glass used a weddings will allow you to get 8 glasses out of a bottle. Allow for six glasses for a wine served in a normal wine glass. In Israel, I calculate conservatively on a basis of one glass per person. The people who drink more than one glass are balanced out by those who don’t drink at all. There should certainly be at least enough red & white wines to put a bottle of each on every table.

As for the wine, buy in bulk to get the best price. Retailers will give discounts on purchases by the case. A savvy retailer may allow you to return unopened bottles. In Israel I would go for a balance of 60-65% red wines, 35-40% white wines.

If it is a do it yourself affair and you want to chill a number of bottles quickly, then the best way is to put the wines in a large plastic container or a bath tub. Fill it with ice, which may be purchased from a nearby petrol station. Pour in water to cover the bottles and add a little salt which will quicken the cooling process. If you use a domestic fridge, put the wines in at least two hours before you need them.

Finally, don’t forget the most important wine. There are two cups of wine under the Chuppa. The blessing for wine is said and the bride and groom then each take a drink, which is symbolic of the new partnership. It reminds me of all the good bottles of wine they will be sharing in future.

After this, the Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings, are recited, and the happy couple again share in drinking the cup of wine. For me the wine has to be a special one which has a meaning for both parties. Some couples have their song, others have their wine. However my lofty ideals fall on stony ground as a basic Kiddush wine seems the choice of most couples.

The choice of wine can make a difference about how an event is perceived. To splash out on everything, but skimp on the wine, is a pity. Conversely, choosing the right wine can make a meal into a banquet.