Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Little Whine and a Lot of Cheese

We entertain a lot and some weeks, it feels like we entertain a lot more than we really do.  Only ten months into our Albanian gig, I'm feeling like we are in a rut when it comes to hosting receptions. It seems like each one has the same menu and same guest list.  So, to kick things up a notch, we decided that for our first April event we would host a wine and cheese themed reception.

It sounded simple enough- or in Glenn's words, we just had to put a bunch of cheese on the table and open a few bottles of wine.  Um, sorry honey. Even the simplest of ideas takes a little more effort.  First, our little shin-dig for 40 was to be held the day after Glenn returned to Albania after being out of the country for a week.  This wouldn't be a big deal if it wasn't for the fact that my only prep time for this event was after Sidney the night owl went down to sleep well after 2100 each evening. 

If I was back in the U.S.- or in any other country in Europe for that matter- putting together a menu would have been a simple enough proposition.  As I should know by now, putting together any event here is a lot more work than it should be.  Albania is the land of "white cheese" - a.k.a. feta with various levels of pungency and two types of wine- vere e bardhe (white) and vere e kuqe (red). That's all folks- those are your local choices. 

People often tell me that I obsess about details but as I always do, I was determined to find just the right combination of food and drink to serve to our guests.  Some of you may have read my post from earlier this week bemoaning the difficulties I encountered when shopping in our local, not-so-friendly Carrefour.  Sticking to my boycott of the store I set about finding the perfect wines to go with the perfect cheeses for our event.  I struck silver- not gold because I couldn't find everything I needed- at Bote e Veres, a local wine warehouse where they know us by name-- or more like they know Sidney by name and recognize Glenn and I as Sidney's parents.  Most of their wines are imported from Italy with a smattering from Chile, the U.S. of A. and South Africa thrown.  With the exception of port  I was able to find everything I needed. (The port was later picked up by my globe trotting husband in a duty-free shop during his layover in Munich).

Part of the cheese spread
A variety of cheeses was harder to come by but in the end I think I did pretty well and didn't serve a single "Albanian white cheese."  I ended up pairing fresh mozzarella and tomato skewers with Chianti, a Gorgonzola and mascarpone torte with port, phyllo wrapped brie with a crisp chardonnay and a Swiss fondue with a Macedonian Riesling.  I paired green olives from Berat with a hard goat cheese Glenn brought back from Vienna and served it with a Sicilian Merlot.  I rounded out the table with a few more wines and simple fruit, crackers, and cheese presentations.  I even dipped into my precious stash of cheddar and pepper jack that had been "imported" from a Maryland Wegman's and the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

I was a bit nervous going into the evening since after the difficulties I encountered in buying these items, everything suddenly seemed too easy.  I wasn't sure how a simple wine and cheese presentation would be received since this type of event is apparently unheard of in Eastern Europe.  To our surprise, once people got over the fact they could chose between several white and red wines, they really enjoyed themselves.  They enjoyed themselves so much that they ate me out of cheese.  Yes, that's right, for the first time ever there weren't any leftovers and the visions I had had of eating cheese and crackers this weekend was reduced to the cheese crumbles left on picked-clean platters.  That's OK though- within the next month both Glenn and I will be traveling through several countries and we'll be on the lookout for more cheese.

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