The Wine and Cheese Reception
We're sure you've heard by now that hosting a cocktail reception can be a smart, value-packed alternative to a wedding that includes a full dinner. We decided to take the concept a step further, and invent the wine and cheese wedding. Similar to a cocktail reception, a wine and cheese reception has a relaxed but sophisticated feel—and you won't need to worry about a seating chart.
A wine and cheese reception should start around 5 p.m., after a late-afternoon ceremony. (An early start time signals to guests that they shouldn't be expecting a full meal.) The reception should last about two hours, max.
What to serve
Wine and cheese, of course. Serve six white wines and six red wines, and have waiters passing glasses of sparkling wine as guests enter. "You'll want to make sure there is a nice variety of regions and varietals to make it interesting," says Michael Steifman of Stuart & Welch Catering and Events. Anu Karwa of Swirl Events advises setting up two stations of white wines (one for light bodied wines, and one for medium bodied ones) and three stations of red wines (of various bodies and grapes). "Advise guests to try the wines in the order they've been set up, from light bodied white all the way to heavier red," says Anu. Plan on each guest drinking three glasses of wine total (five per person for a crowd full of boozehounds). "Keep in mind you should get about five to six glasses out of each bottle," says Anu, who also suggests choosing wines that are special to you as a couple (i.e. wines from your honeymoon location, or the wine you shared on your first date).
Each station should also feature several cheeses that pair well with the selected wines. Round out the cheese selections with grapes, figs, marcona almonds and honey, and a station of artisanal breads, marmalades, pate, charcuteries, and olive oil. You can also serve a few small plates or passed hors d'oeuvres. "Offer a variety of tastes that work with the various wine styles and flavors, like a smoked item, a fried item, something creamy, and light seafood," says Anu. Michael suggests serving something with meat to pair with heavier reds, like truffled steak and eggs. "I would recommend about 4 oz. of cheese per guest, if combined with other hors d'oeuvres and breads," says Thomas John of Thomas John Events. "And if you're doing passed hors d'oeuvres, ideally you want at least eight per person per hour."
You'll want each tasting station to be manned by a knowledgeable wine and cheese expert, who can explain the pairings to guests. If your caterer's staff isn't well-versed in wine and cheese, you can hire a company that specializes in hosting wine tastings, like Swirl Events, based in the greater New York City area. "To find a company like this in your area, look up a local wine or culinary school, and ask the administrators there if they know of one," says Anu. Or, if your wines and cheeses are selected from a specific company, you can hire a sales consultant from that company to man the station. "In the case that we have a lot of products from different companies at each station, we contact them and ask for literature and product information, so our staff can study what they'll be serving," says Thomas. Another option: go to a local cheese or wine shop, and hire staff from them for the evening.
Choose a venue that's furnished, like a restaurant or townhouse with multiple rooms. Instead of assigned seating, just set up various tables, chairs, and cocktail tables throughout the space so guests can mingle and sit as they please. Banquettes and sofas can create several lounge-like areas. (Provide enough seating to accommodate half of your guests at any given time.) "To make the space look more interesting than your standard wine tasting, use old wine crates to display small floral arrangements," says Michael. "I also like to use wood chopping blocks or slate trays to display cheeses."
While a DJ or full live band isn't necessary, a retro-style jazz trio can add loads of ambiance. A vintage black and white photo booth for guests to frequent throughout the evening is also a nice touch.
Traditional wedding cake would seem out of place—so consider serving a "cake" made of stacked cheese wheels, like the surprisingly attractive cheese wedding cakes from The Cheese Shed, which are decorated with flowers, fruits, and foliage. Pair with a dessert wine.
Because wine and cheese receptions take place close to dinner hour, make it clear a full meal is not happening. Use language like: "Please join us for wine and hors d'oeuvres following the ceremony." At the reception, since guests might not be familiar with wine and cheese tastings, hand out informational menu cards that explain the process.