Prepping the perfect party platter

 As spring approaches, the prospect of entertaining outdoors becomes increasingly appealing. However, with social media constantly broadcasting images of spectacular spreads, the standard of your average party platter has increased significantly. In fact, you’re more likely to hear the term grazing board than the dated ‘party platter’.

A bit lost? Stick to our guide for a grazing board which tastes as good as it looks (and vice-versa).

Wood and marble

While porcelain, glass serving-ware and cake stands look great if well displayed, large wooden serving paddles and marble platters take on a new level of sophistication when adorned with fresh produce. They’re also easier to clean.

Wood and marble lend a rustic feel to a platter, while elegantly laid produce channels the Italian art of sprezzatura (studied effortlessness). Wood and marble serving plates vary in price depending on the type and size, but you’ll find an abundance of options at Wheel and Barrow, King of Knives, and Kmart.

cheese

What’s a grazing platter without cheese? Depending on how many people you’re catering for, try to include at least three varieties: cheddar, brie or camembert, and a blue. A good rule of thumb when selecting cheeses is to include a crowd pleaser (a young cheddar or something from the triple cream family) and a more challenging flavour (eg. Roquefort). Keep in mind that a mix of hard and soft cheeses will cater to more tastes and can be matched with other flavours from the grazing platter.

Sweet fruit pastes like quince or fig pair beautifully with a sharp blue cheese, while dried grapes do just as well and lend an ancient Roman feel to proceedings. These days, you can find an excellent variety of gourmet cheeses at supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths. For something a bit more specialised, Barbosa Fine Food Deli will certainly be able to point you in the right direction.

meat

As with cheese, go for a mix of different styles when it comes to smoked and cured meats. Italian classics like prosciutto and a mild salami are no-brainers, and adding a Spanish chorizo, French saucisson or spicy ‘nduja will keep adventurous guests happy. You can also include pâté, terrine and other rich items: just make sure they’re kept refrigerated and out of the sun.

Crackers

Sure, there’s a time and a place for Jatz; it’s just not now and not on your grazing board. Stick to lavosh and water crackers for the more mellow cheeses; you can choose a sweeter cracker or heavier biscuit for the stronger flavours of blues or aged cheddars.

For something a little more substantial, offer a couple of bread varieties; you can’t go wrong with a hard crusted ciabatta and a seeded variety. These can be eaten with other items on the board or dunked into a dish of high-quality olive oil.

Fruit, Nuts and Bolts

This is where you can get creative. Add bursts of colour around the grazing platter with handfuls of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, dried fruit and even edible flowers. Not only does a colourful spread visually elevate the platter, it means a larger array of produce so there really is something for everyone.

Dips, particularly more colourful varieties like taramasalata and avocado dip, can be spooned into small dishes and placed across the board. Having a few vegan options is a good idea too.

Putting it all together

 Putting it all together Now the fun part. Provided you go with the highest quality and freshest produce you can get your hands on, it’s difficult to go wrong if you follow a few simple rules:

  • Group your items in threes (or fives, depending on the number of guests). It lends an attractive symmetry to the board.
  • Place the cheeses first and make sure each has its own cheese knife.
  • Make sure everything on the board is ‘bite-sized’, or can be picked at easily without disturbing other produce.
  • After the cheese is laid, spread the crackers; fold torn pieces of cured meats for texture; place small bowls of olives, dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke, seeds and nuts around the board so everything is in reach.
  • Finish with fresh fruits, arranging berries and seasonal produce in groups of threes around the board.

Having a hard time deciding on an interesting combination? Take inspiration from local platter specialists Your Platter Matters or Picnic Perfection and create a grazing board that goes from savoury to sweet in centimetres.