The Art of a Charcuterie & Cheese Platter

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As the holidays come barreling down the highway, ideas for what to serve are top of mind. With all the hustle and bustle, a good way to fill the table, fill your guests and keep sane during the season is to offer up a beautiful, bountiful charcuterie platter as part of your appetizer/cocktail hour.  There are many ways to stack up all your meats, cheeses and other nibbles, but a tried and true method is have a wide selection,  keep like items together and spread the color around for visual impact.  

Sure, there are plenty of other rules like; offer 3 different types of cheese (cow, goat, sheep). Or one should be hard, another soft, one should be mild, one should be strong, blah blah blah.  Joking aside, these are some decent guidelines. But your own instinct and good judgement are the very best rules to follow.

I say, buy and serve what you love and what you think your guests will enjoy. Sometimes I serve four cheeses. Sometimes three or five.  There are no hard and fast rules but I will share some of the tips that my heart follows, and thus do my platters.  

  • I like to offer up a 'palate party'.  Put forth different items that will excite all the sensory notes on your tongue.  Cheese and meat for the savory elements, fruits both fresh and dried for sweetness, nuts or chick peas for crunch, olives for a salty bite.  You get the idea.
  • Use bowls for smaller items. They contain them plus create height giving the platter a bit more interest.
  • Add fresh items like vegetables or greens
  • Include small spoons or forks so guests can easily pick up food
  • Arrange each item in groupings, either neatly and orderly or nicely bunched together
  • Be colorful. Spread the hues around so that similar colors aren't next to one another.
  • Fill your charcuterie platters chock full of goodies. Depending on what you have available and how you want your guests to feast should determine what goes on your platter.  Pull out what you have and see if it's the right mix.
  • If it may seem overwhelming, then place all your items on the board to help provide a visual sense. 
 Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese.  If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese.  If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Let's build a platter.  

 Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Filling the bowls.
For some small items like nuts, you can snuggle them up to another offerings. However, I find that items with liquid, like olives, are best contained.  Once I have one small bowl, then I usually like to add another for balance. Also, a suggestion is to stay within a color scheme when choosing vessels.  I have presented my platters with and without bowls.  It's just how the mood hits me.  Design at will.

Create Height:
For more visual interest, place a big hunk of cheese then arrange the cut pieces around it.  This creates structure and height but also shows your guests the cheese in its original state.

Make it Easy to Eat:
When presenting cheese and meats, I prefer cutting each one so they are readily available for guests.  They can just pick up a few pieces and go.  I have noticed that trying to cut with all the other items on a platter can be difficult. For cheese, I look for the natural and most logical way to cut a particular cheese.  Each one has its own best way to present it.  Some are better in big chunks while others work beautifully in elongated triangles. Much like people, we come in a myriad of shapes and sizes but all mingle together.

Presentation:
Keep cutting and placing and building up your board.  Place items around and see how they feel in the space. They can always be shifted around.  You can't make a mistake.

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Build it up:
Keep at it until you get it just the way you want. Generally, I just go with the flow.  Insert here, augment there to create a platter that looks appealing and complements my other appetizer offerings.  My suggestion is play around until you get a sense of how the meats and cheeses and fruits and other snack-ables like cozying up together.  

 If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my  Spicy Chick Peas  that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my Spicy Chick Peas that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

When it comes to dry cured meats like Prosciutto or Serrano ham, you can rock and roll 'em up. 

 

 Serrano ham

Serrano ham

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Other times, they are best when gathered to make little bunches.

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Other dry cured meats can be folded or curled like trumpets for a tidy look.  I think it's the uniformity that makes it appealing and appetizing.  

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Now that you have the basics, here are a few other tips plus other platters I have created in the past to get a sense or arrangement.

I am an equal opportunity employer when it comes to my serving ware.  So I like to put into play a variety of shapes and sizes when I build my platters. Incorporating the shape of those boards/platters helps to paint the picture of the final layout.  If you have curves (like I do...) embrace them, work with them and arrange your items
in a circular fashion.  

Also, introduce veggies when you can. Since crackers can be heavy, I adore including cucumbers. (I use either English or Persian, as they have less seeds.) They work just like bread or a cracker as a delivery vehicle, and are a great alternative for gluten free and carb free folks.  Plus they burst onto the scene with a green that just makes me smile.

When you do use crackers and want to keep it all contained, include them nestled in so that guests can grab whatever their heart desires all from one place. 

 Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

The introduction of dips, such as hummus, right in the midst of it all augments your offerings with a creamy factor. I'm a big fan of tucking greens in and around. Arugula provides a lovely, spicy bite that dances well with all these flavors.  The greens not only brighten the platter but provide a crispness that both lightens and refreshes the palate.

 Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Sometimes you can make a big impact by mixing nice and neat items that anchor the others that are just mounded up abundantly in the middle.

No matter how you decide to arrange your charcuterie platter, have fun with it. With every grab of a piece of this and a slice of that your guests will be delighted with your bountiful offering.