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Build your own wine and cheese baskets for Christmas gifts

By Staff
Dec. 5, 2001
With Christmas less than three weeks away, let's talk about the gift baskets of wine and cheese that are so popular at this time of the year. Popular with the givers, that is. Not necessarily so popular with those who receive them.
Most of these easy-way-out baskets contain a couple of bottles of nondescript wine, some crackers and an assortment of silly little cheese packages, most of which are about the size of your thumb.
Do it right
Let's take them in reverse order. Why in the world would you give someone a type of cheese that you know nothing about? And, if it is tasty, shouldn't the portion be more than two or three bites?
Why not build your own basket?
We are limited by the cheese that is available in Mississippi just as we are limited by the selections of wine in your favorite package store. But cheese that blends very well with white wines is readily available in every Meridian supermarket. They include soft rind cheeses such as brie, camembert and goat cheese.
For one of the bottles in your home made basket, include a chardonnay, a white burgundy or a sancerre. This type of cheese will marry well with a few red wines such as the rhones, the pinot noir or wines of the Loire Valley. Cream cheese, monterray jack or mozzarella will also complement such wines.
The big red wines, the cabernet sauvignons, the Australian shiraz, the chateauneuf-du-Pape, the Spanish red wines; call for stronger flavored cheese such as cheddar, gouda or parmesan.
Yes, parmesan. I doubt if one out of 100 of you buy parmesan in any form other than ground up in a box for sprinkling on pasta. The other day we bought parmesan in a solid pie-wedge style at a local supermarket, prepackaged, and served it with red wine. It was absolutely wonderful. Big bold flavor that matched the big bold flavor of a Spanish wine we were reviewing.
We cut it in strips about 1 inch long and perhaps a quarter of an inch wide, and it disappeared very quickly.
As for the crackers, in my house and the homes of fellow wine lovers, there is only one cracker to serve with wine. It is the Bremner Wafer, a crisp yet soft cracker that enhances any cheese and any wine without detracting the flavor in any way.
In New Orleans, we buy them in big cans, about the size of coffee cans. Here the stores carry a smaller version. Bremners are baked in several different flavors but as an accompaniment to cheese and wine, you want only the green box. Once you match those crackers to the cheese and wine, you will never buy anything else.
Speaking of New Orleans, next time you're there go to Martin's Wine Cellar and look for a round of Explorator cheese. It is absolutely the best cheese with wine that I have ever found. It is not available here.
Wrap it up
Now as let's talk about the wine for your homemade Christmas gift.
Please, I beg of you, do not buy the under $6 dollar wines if you plan to give the basket to someone you care about. If you want to drink them yourself, have at it. But if you want to give wine that will cause the recipient to say it was outstanding, and really mean it, you will move up to the better bottles.
People know the difference. They really do, and the difference between low-end wines and the middle grades is dramatic.
So, buy an inexpensive basket. Pack it with a decent bottle of red wine and a good bottle of white wine. Put in the appropriate cheese in larger packages, and be sure to include a box of Bremner Wafers. Whoever is fortunate enough to receive your gift will know you cared enough to do something special for them.
The prepackaged gift can be very nice, of course, but it is not personal. When you do it yourself, it is. Simple as that.
As with so many other things there are two routes to go: the easy way or the best way. You know which route I recommend.
Stan Torgerson, a long-time resident of Meridian, writes a weekly column for The Meridian Star.