Entertaining Blueprint with Andy Chabot

5th Edition
A Classic
ANDY CHABOT KNOWS FINE WINE. As the Sommelier and Director of Food and Beverage at Blackberry Farm, Andy is quite the expert on world-class food and wine at this Relais & Châteaux property nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. So, needless to say, we were thrilled when he agreed to give us a sneak peek into one of his wine and cheese gatherings at his own home in Tennessee.
The Food
The cheeses I like to serve are traditional styled cheeses. They offer a quick answer to wine pairing since often in a region where one finds a style of cheese being produced, one also finds a wine to match. For hard cheeses, I'll serve which is a cow's milk cheese, Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano, also a cow's milk cheese, and Blackberry Farm Singing Brook Cheese, an aged sheep's milk cheese. The saltiness of these harder cheeses begs for slightly sweet accoutrements. This time of year, we are getting a lot of peppers out of the garden, and I like to make pepper jelly out of them and serve that along with a crisp whole-wheat cracker.

For soft cheeses, I'll serve Boucheron, which is a Loire Valley goat's milk cheese, Brilliant Savarin a triple cream cow's milk cheese from Burgundy and also Serra da Estrella a Portuguese soft ripened sheep's milk cheese that has a slightly spongy texture due to a different rennet used in its production. I also add Roquefort which is a sheep's milk blue cheese from the Pyrénées region of France. I like crispy bread like a baguette with soft cheeses. I also like to pair fresh, crisp fruit with them, which offsets the creaminess of the cheeses and helps to reset your palette.

With the Serra da Estrella, I make an easy Pumpkin and Almond Preserve that's both seasonal to us here but also a traditional accompaniment that I learned to love when I was visiting Porto. A cinch to make and usually a come-from-behind hit with my guests once I get them to try it.
For Andy's Pumpkin and Almond Preserve recipe, click here.
The Drinks
I serve a number of different wines which wines work best with which cheeses. I find that most people think that red wines should pair best but they end up deciding on white or sweet wines as better pairing options with one or two notable exceptions. With the Bouchon, I like to get a Sauvignon Blanc in their hands since that's the white wine made in the area where the cheese comes from.

Champagne can be one of the secret weapons of cheese and wine pairing It is absolutely incredible with the creamy Brillat Savarin bringing balance to a cheese that is truly palette coating. The champagne that I reach for is Gonet Medeville Brut Tradition. It's what I served at my wedding and still one of my very favorites.

One of the red wine exceptions that I like to showcase involves the Brillat Savarin cheese as well. I pair it with a red Burgundy wine—Pinot Noir Pinot Noirs from Burgundy tend to be less about fruit and more about a certain earthy expression coupled with a higher level of acid. The cheese tones down the acidity and amplifies the fruit creating an almost cherry coke flavor that most people find pleasing.

Finally, I also love tawny port when I do get to put that pumpkin preserve in the mix. A great pairing is Niepoort's tawny Port, Serra da Estrella cheese, and the Pumpkin Preserve (which is called Doce de Abobora in Portugal). It's also a very classic pairing although it's best left to the end since all the sweet flavors might put your palette to sleep.
The Setting
Generally speaking, the kitchen in my house is where these gatherings end up. For the setup, I use wooden cutting boards to both cut all the cheeses but then also to serve the cheeses. I have one that is made from the top of a wine barrel and it suits these gatherings exceptionally well. I typically put condiments and  accoutrements in small colorful cast-iron pots. They withstand being passed around and bumping into things and they look great. I cooked thepumpkin preservein a Le Creuset potand I served it in the I'm a huge fan of as little clean-up as possible.
A carefully curated playlist makes all the difference when hosting guests. A mix of The Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, and Merle Haggard does double duty as it puts guests at ease and keeps the conversation interesting.
Rules of Entertaining
  • Engage the guests quickly and bring the action to them. This helps them feel more comfortable but also brings them into the group rather than allowing little side pockets and cliques to form. A small glass of wine also doesn't hurt.
  • Don't be too fancy. Making guests comfortable is important and when they think that they shouldn't use a certain utensil or plate because it's overly fancy then they are on edge. I don't own a single plate, utensil, glass, or decanter that's off-limits and I try to use them all in a mismatched sort of way that helps create comfort.
  • Music is important. It fills the void in conversation and if chosen carefully, it elicits its own conversation among guests and you as well. Designate a person to be in charge of the music ahead of time and the evening will be smooth sailing.
The Essentials 4 Quart Covered Saucepan1 Quart Oval Dutch OvenLarge Utensils CrockWhite Wine Glass