Ditch the traditional virtual baby shower and personalize the experience by sending your guests everything they need for a cheese tasting!
Disclaimer: This article for How to Host a Virtual Baby Shower is sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Ontario. All opinions are our own.
When Philip and I first found out we were expecting, not once did we think the words global pandemic would be part of our pregnancy journey. For us, we imagined a list of things we wanted to do together: taking classes with other parents-to-be, shopping for little clothes and toys, and celebrating our cocobun in the oven, in-person with family and friends. Instead, Philip and I watched birthing classes via YouTube, took advantage of free shipping at retailers, and swapped our dreams of hosting a themed baby shower for an online virtual baby shower.
While we would have preferred to celebrate in-person, both our immediate families together are over 40 people, and the risk wasn’t worth the reward. But the thought of a traditional, virtual baby shower was something I resisted – I didn't want our guests awkwardly starring at me in silence. Instead, we decided to bring the baby shower experience to our guests by hand-delivering everything they needed to create their own cheese boards safely at home, with help from our friends at Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
What is a Virtual Baby Shower?
A virtual baby shower has everything you would expect of an in-person baby shower, except it's online. It has interactive games, baby predictions and presents, just like a traditional baby shower, but all done from the comfort of our and our guests' homes. While this all sounds simple, for me the thought of having all my guests starring at the me over the internet, asking the same questions (When are you due? Can we see the bump?) and the dreaded awkward silence, wasn't an experience I wanted to have. Instead, Philip and I decided to turn our virtual baby shower into a virtual cheese tasting baby shower with all the same games, fun and baby predictions that come with the party.
How to Host a Virtual Cheese Tasting
Choosing Cheese for the Tasting
The first step to hosting a virtual cheese tasting is selecting your cheese. Head to your local cheese shop and request the help of the monger to pick out cheeses to fit your budget as well ideas for pairing them with different beverages. While you want to ensure to choose cheeses you love, keep your guests in mind by selecting cheese with mild flavours and different textures to appeal to everyone at your event. We opted for soft brie-style cheese, a medium cheese flavoured with fruit or wine, and hard and sharp cheese for a little more punch.
For us shopping local was important, and living in Ontario means we have an incredible selection of cheese made within our province. With help from Philip's brother, Jeremy Lago of The Pantry Fine Cheese here in Toronto, the cheeses he helped us select were not only made here in Ontario but are world-class quality and flavour. Plus, if you know us, you know we love a good cheeseboard.
Pairing the Cheese
Once you have your cheese picked out it's time to choose your beverages. The simplest pairing for cheese will be wine and since wine pairs with most cheeses, it's generally a safe bet. If you don't have a local cheesemonger visit Ontario Dairy's website for cheese pairing inspiration.
For our shower, our guestlist included couples as well as families and we wanted to offer an experience that all ages could enjoy. In our boxes, we included a pairing of wine, beer, and non-alcoholic apple cider to our tasting.
How to Pick Accouterments for a Virtual Cheese Tasting
No cheese board is complete without a couple of accouterments. Cheese pairs with both sweet and savoury so choose an element of each. A sweet jelly, a vine of grapes, or dark chocolate are wonderful sweet elements, and olives, nuts, or cured meat as the savoury. Just ensure the finishing touches you add to your board travel well when delivering to your guests.
How to Create a Pairing Guide for the Virtual Cheese Tasting
To help guide you and your guests through the tasting, print out a cheese pairing guide to include in your packages. Go to the websites of the cheeses and beverages you are including and write a short paragraph for each pairing explaining the flavours and notes of the different products.
How to Conduct the Cheese Tasting
When it comes to hosting the tasting ask your cheesemonger or contact a local sommalier to see if they have any tips. Luckily for us, Philip's brother Jeremy was able to host the tasting live on our Zoom call where our audience could ask him quetions directly. Here are a few things we learnt from him:
1. Whenever you are doing a tasting you want to start from mildest flavours to the strongest. Organize the cheeses and drinks accordingly, starting with a soft brie, then lightly flavoured medium cheese and finish with the strongest and sharpest cheeses.
2. To understand how the cheeses and drinks pair, start by taking a sip of the beverage. Wet the palette and smell the beverage as you drink it to get the flavour. Next taste the cheese. Let it sit on your tongue a bit and really take in the flavours. Now taste them together – take a small bite of the cheese leaving it on your tongue and take a small sip of the drink. Let them sit together and notice the difference of the flavours.
3. Sometimes the drink will mellow out a bitter rind, or may bring out the sweetness of a fruit or wine-infused cheese. There is no right or wrong when it comes to picking out the flavours. Different palettes will have different experiences and it's fun to see how everyone reacts to the pairings.
Pick a Date and Time
With our little one's due date being in September, our virtual baby shower fell right in the middle of the summer months. Being mindful of summer plans, cottage trips, and taking up our guests' weekends, we decided to host our shower on a Friday night. With each guest receiving everything they need to make a cheeseboard, plus a bottle of wine, cider, and beer, we felt a Friday event at 7pm was an ideal time for families, as well the perfect opportunity to keep the party going long into the night without disrupting their weekend.
Send Out Digital Invitations + Wording
Once you have a date and a time, it's time to invite your guests. Continue with the online theme by personalizing a digital invitation from a service like Paperless Post or Greenvelope. Be sure to include instructions for which platform you'll be using to host your virtual shower (we decided on Zoom), a link or information on how to access your baby registry ( we decided on BabyList, a universal registry that allowed our guests to shop online or in-store at multiple retailers), as well let your guests know you will be delivering everything they need to participate in the cheese tasting before the event.
Curate the Gift Boxes
When it came to curating our gift boxes, supporting local Ontario farmers and businesses was something we felt passionate about. We wanted to ensure our guests received a locally sourced gift box filled with everything they need to make our virtual baby shower come to life.
Here's what we included in our boxes:
Cheese and Beverage Pairings
It's hard to go wrong when choosing cheese, especially when Philip and I live in Ontario, which is home to some of the best cheese makers in the world. For our box we chose a soft, medium and hard cheese, each with flavours on the more mild side to ensure everyone would enjoy them.
Upper Canada Cheese Company – Comfort Baby: Comfort Baby is a Camembert-style soft, white bloomy rind cheese with a silky, creamy, golden interior. Rich flavours of fresh truffles prevail with an intense, buttery palate and a long, tangy finish. This was paired with LOLA Cabernet Franc Rosé VQA.
Stonetown Artisan Cheese – Muskoka Bliss: Muskoka Bliss is very creamy and is made with dried cranberries from Muskoka. It is a semi-soft cheese, natural mild buttery flavour with a hint of dried cranberries. This was paired with Spirit Tree Apple Cranberry Cider.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese – Handeck: Handeck is a washed rind cheese similar to a typical mountain Swiss-style cheese. It is delicately aged on cedar wood planks adding robust flavours and is a drier, hard cheese with very rich and complex flavours, and nutty overtones. This was paired with Collective Arts Life in the Clouds IPA.
In addition to cheese and beverages, we included a mix of finishes for our guests to assemble their own cheeseboards. Additions like Niagra grapes, garlic stuffed olives, crackers, and a grape Jelly from Southridge Jam Co., a social enterprise in Niagara, Ontario that provides individuals who have recently experienced homelessness the opportunity to develop job training and life skills.
Baby Prediction Cards
When it comes to in-person baby showers what we love are the interactive predictions and advice cards guests are encouraged to fill out. To ensure our little cocobun got the same experience and keepsakes from their guests, we included one prediction card per guest in a pre-stamped envelope within each box. All our guests have to do is complete the card and drop it in the mail. It's a simple touch that our little one will have forever.
Deliver Your Gift Boxes
While the thought of delivering multiple gift boxes across the city sounds like a bit of a long drive, visiting our guests in person was definitely the highlight of our shower. Not only did we get to see our guests and have them see us in our pregnancy journey, it allowed us to catch up with every attendee, getting a visit in before the shower. With many virtual showers, the ability to catch up one on one with your guests isn't the easiest but a visit beforehand allowed us connect with our guests and save the shower for the actual cheese tasting and fun games!
Let the (Virtual) Party Begin
When it came to moderating our shower, my sister Isabella was the primary host. Not only did she coordinated the games, she also thought of other personalizations to our shower with a fun surprise from our parents, sharing sweet and funny stories of both Philip and me as babies. To kick off the event, Isabella walked our guests through the agenda.
Here's the itinerary as well as the amount of time spent on each section:
7:00 - 7:05pm: Philip and Mystique welcome their guests
7:05 - 7:10pm: Isabella welcomes everyone and shares the agenda for the night
7:10-7:25pm: Mystique walks everyone through the goodies they;ll find in their baskets and gives them tips on assembling their cheeseboard
7:25 - 7:45pm: Jeremy leads the group through the cheese pairing
7:45 - 7:50pm: Philip's mom shared a speech about him
7:50-8:00pm: 1st game – Guess the Parent Who Did This?
8:00 - 8:05pm: Mystique's mom shared a speech about her
8:05 - 8:15pm: 2nd game – Guess the Baby Version of These Animals
8:15 - 8:20pm: Philip's step-mom shared a speech about him
8:20 - 8:25pm: 3rd game – Everyone has 10 seconds to make the most creative baby bump with items found around their home
8:25 - 8:30pm: Philip and Mystique thank their guests
The best part about the cheese tasting is that by the time you get to the games, most adults have had at least a glass of wine and half a beer, meaning guests are very into the games and can actually become super competitive. While our shower was an hour and a half long it flew by and was the perfect amount of time, amount of cheese and amount of beverages to keep the party going well beyond the shower for many of our guests.
Send Out Thank You Notes
Just because your baby shower was virtual doesn't mean you can't end on a personalized note (literally). Right after your shower send out hand-written thank you cards to your guests via postal. Not only is it a wonderful way to thank your guests for attending your shower, but is also a thoughtful way to thank them personally for any presents they may have gifted your little one.
While a cheese tasting with pairing beverages may cost the same as an in-person baby shower, there are other ways to still provide a cost-effective experience to your guests. Get your guests cooking in the kitchen with an early morning virtual baby shower brunch by delivering everything they need for weekend pancakes or an afternoon cookie baking session with ingredients needed to make cookies.