Meat, cheese, vegetables—hmm!

By Heath Goldman
Updated July 25, 2017
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Feeding a crowd? Throwing a cocktail party? Build one of these stunning platters, and you’ll be completely set when it comes to hors d’oeuvres. All you need is a large wooden cutting board, like this one from Boos. Food stylist Chelsea Zimmer, caterer Jeremy Wachalter (owner of Cobblestone Catering in Brooklyn, NY), and Murray’s Cheese Manager of Education Christine Clark weighed in with some tips and tricks.

How to Build a Cheese Platter:

  • 3 to 5 cheeses is the perfect number for most crowds. More isn’t better: it can overwhelm people’s taste buds and give them cheese fatigue. Plus, as the host, you want to know the story of each cheese. It’s hard to talk about more than 5 cheeses.
  • Variety is the golden rule. Something old, something new, something stinky, something blue. That means pick different types of milks (cow, goat, sheep, and blends), as well as a range of harder and softer cheeses. Select different shapes (wedges, wheels, blocks) for visual variety.
  • Always include one crowd-pleaser and one more challenging cheese. Crowd-pleasers are generally softer younger cheeses like a triple crème, double crème, or brie. People also tend to love young manchego and aged goudas. A challenging cheese is usually stinkier (ask your cheesemonger to recommend a good one) and it adds some excitement/risk-taking to the board.
  • Plate from mild to wild. People tend to eat from left to right, so put the youngest mildest cheeses on the left and the stronger ones on the right to help palates adjust along the way.
  • Think about creating different cheese stations. Place accouterments close to the cheeses that they pair well with. For example, try pairing blue cheese with something sweet, like honey, caramel sauce, chocolate, or gingersnaps.

How to Build a Charcuterie Platter:

  • It’s rich, so as a rule of thumb buy 2 ounces of meat per person.
  • Mix up textures and flavors. You want something hard like cured sausage (sopressata, chorizo, hard salami), rich like pate (if you can find it), warm like pan-cooked sausage, smoky like smoked kielbasa, and delicate like prosciutto.
  • Make sure everything is ready to eat and bite-sized. Tear prosciutto so people can eat it more easily. Slice salami while its cold for clean cuts, and serve it at room temperature. Make sure to remove any casings from sausage (the package will usually say if you have to).
  • Garnishes round out the platter. Acidity helps balance out charcuterie’s rich flavor, so opt for chutney, grainy mustard, cornichons, and olives.
  • Layer, layer, layer. Crowded is okay. Try wrinkling up things like prosciutto to add height. Overlap cured meats when possible. And try mixing in low bowls and plates to add different levels and volumes.
  • Don’t forget the bread. It’s okay to keep it simple. Try slicing baguette, drizzling it with plenty of olive oil, seasoning it, and toasting in the oven.

How to Build a Vegetable Platter:

  • Choose an odd number of colorful dips. Odd numbers are more visually pleasing than even ones. Dips are often white/beige, so try to make ones that are colorful and have different textures. Some ideas here.
  • Seek out exciting vegetables. Let’s face it: the veggie plate often goes untouched. If you find exciting unusual vegetables, snap them up. Options like purple broccoli or Easter egg radishes are super enticing. Or opt for unusual choices like endive, radicchio, or little gem lettuces.
  • It’s okay to use regular veggies too. Think: celery, carrots, cucumber, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Leave the tops on for handles. Leaving vegetable tops on helps fill out the platter and gives you something to hold on to. Leave on things like radish tops. Trim carrots so some of the green still remains.
  • Cut vegetables into a variety of sizes. If things like radishes, carrots, and broccoli florets are small, leave them whole. Halve or quarter larger vegetables to make them bite-sized and add visual variety.
  • Crisp up vegetables in ice water before plating. The cold water intensifies the vegetables' colors, perks up limp leaves, and leaves them glistening. You can also cut the vegetables up to a day ahead of time and store them in cold water.

Written by Heath Goldman