Get the Party Started With a Holiday Grazing Board—It's the Best Way to Feed a Crowd
The holiday season gives us many welcome opportunities to gather with friends and family. Conjure up a relaxed, yet festive mood for your next get-together by putting together a delicious grazing board. There's no cooking required and, best of all, there are no hors d'oeuvres to pass around.
Not only is this holiday grazing board easy on the cook, but you can even have fun before the party starts, selecting the tastiest salumi and cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, and seasonal vegetables along with olives, nuts, and fancy condiments—and take your time arranging them beautifully. Your guests will quickly relax as they reach across the board, catching up with one another and snacking while they talk. It's a great way to bring people together.
Here's how to create a beautiful and delicious holiday grazing board step by step.
1. Choose the Board
Easy access for guests is key, so start with the largest board or platter you can find. If you don't have a large board, use a few smaller ones placed together to create the feeling of one big spread. Place the board in a central location—this encourages people to gather around and helps guests circulate.
2. Apply Parchment Leaves
Greenery, such as fresh fig or grape leaves, adds a nice element to your grazing board, but is not essential. One of our favorite tricks is to use the parchment leaves sold in cheese shops and kitchenware stores as opposed to fresh options. The parchment leaves always look good and also prevent cheese from sticking to the board.
Start building your grazing board by placing down the leaves; arrange a few so they hang off the board for visual impact.
3. Add Cheeses and Nuts
Of course, your grazing board needs a selection of cheeses—but don't forget to include nuts. They bring different flavors and texture and add to the look of the board.
Choose at least three distinct types of cheeses; each should have a different texture and flavor. Here's a trifecta we swear by:
- 1 mild, soft cheese, such as fresh goat cheese or a creamy sheep's-milk cheese can be set out with a spreading knife or pre-sliced for ease
- 1 show-stopping washed-rind or soft ripened cheese, such as the flower-shaped Comeback Cow from Dorothy's Creamery in Illinois, should be left whole
- 1 firmer cheese that is a crowd pleaser, such as Spanish Manchego, Italian Piave, or Dutch gouda, can be sliced in advance for guests to nibble on
Blue cheese or aged, crumbly options, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, are also stellar choices for a holiday grazing board—they pair well with the season's dried fruits.
Opt for one or two types of nuts, such as almonds and walnuts; smoked or flavored ones work, too.
Place the cheeses on the board first so they come to room temperature; they'll need about 45 minutes to an hour before the party starts. Put the cheeses at different points on the board so guests can taste a little bit of everything. Break harder cheeses, such as Parmesan, into bite-size pieces before placing them on the board.
Begin thinking about the overall style of your board and place bowls of nuts in one or two strategic spot. This is the time to start thinking creatively: If you have radicchio leaves that are round, for example, use them as a leafy bowl for serving nuts.
4. Add Condiments, Olives, Pickles, and Dried Fruit
Offer a variety of store-bought items, such as pickles and condiments, to complement the cheeses and meats on your grazing board.
Enjoy shopping the aisles of your favorite fine-food shop. We opted for fig jam, but sweet-savory chutneys and salty olive tapenade are good options, too. Pickles might be as simple as a dish of little cornichons, but adding a pickle is important—it brings a briny flavor to the board. We also added plump figs in syrup for flare.
Dried fruit adds sweetness and is another must for a holiday grazing board. Vary the shapes and colors of your selections; we went with Medjool dates and slices of dried persimmon.
Arrange small bowls containing an assortment of olives, pickles, and marinated fruits on the board. Dried fruits can go directly onto the wood.
5. Add Meats
Salumi and charcuterie should be arranged next.
When choosing meats, opt for a balance of flavors—you want spicy and mild options. Sliced meats such as prosciutto come already portioned, but you'll need to slice salami so guests can grab and go.
Loosely fold paper-thin slices of prosciutto, serrano ham, speck, or bresaola into rosettes to keep each slice separate and make them easy for attendees to pick up.
Don't put all the meat you have on the board at once; it will get too warm and sweaty. Set out some of the meats to start and replenish the selection during the party, either when it's almost all gone or an hour into the festivities.
If you are serving any pâté or rillettes, bring them to room temperature just before the party begins. Watch to see if they start to look messy; tidy them up when necessary.
6. Add Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetable crudités and fresh fruits are where you can really bring the beauty of the season to your grazing board. They add color, texture, and crunch.
Freshness is key to any grazing board, so be sure to keep your choices seasonal. Pomegranate seeds are a perfect treat for the occasion, as are tonal grapes. On the savory side, try crunchy spears of Treviso raddichio or endive, thin slices of fennel, and daikon radish cut in rounds.
Aim for a full, opulent board with a casual look to encourage a relaxed environment and plenty of nibbling. Visualize your overall arrangement, then put fruits and vegetables next to their natural pairings: For example, place slices of fresh, crunchy fennel next to spicy soppressata and clusters of grapes next to a kid-friendly cheese.
Last but not least, arrange your board with guests' comfort in mind. Make sure there's a utensil wherever it is needed: a knife for soft cheese, a spoon or spreader for any chutney or condiments, a pickle fork, and plenty of napkins for cheesy fingers. If serving olives, place at least one small dish for the pits nearby.
You've thought of everything—now you get to enjoy your delicious creation with your favorite people.