Get the Party Started with a Holiday Grazing Board
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-assemble a delicious grazing board.
There's no cooking required, no hot plate is needed, there are no hors d'oeuvres to pass around. 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 one another and grazing while they talk. It's a great way to bring people together.
Here's how to create a beautiful and delicious holiday grazing board.
Start with the largest board or platter you can find-or use a few smaller ones placed together to create the feeling of one big spread. Place the board(s) in a central location-this encourages people to gather around and helps guests circulate.
START BUILDING WITH LEAVES
Greenery such as fresh fig leaves are not essential, but they do add to the overall look-as do the parchment leaves sold in cheese shops and kitchenware stores. They also prevent cheese from sticking to the board. Start building your grazing board by placing the leaves.
CHEESE & NUTS
SELECT: Choose at least three distinct types of cheeses; each should have a different texture and flavor. For example: one mild, soft cheese, such as fresh goat cheese or a creamy sheep's-milk cheese can be set out with a spreading knife, or presliced for ease; one show-stopping washed-rind or soft ripened cheese, such as the flower-shaped Keep Dreaming from Dorothy's Creamery in Illinois, can be left whole; and one semisoft 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 cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, are also stellar choices for a holiday grazing board-they pair well with the season's dried fruits.
SERVING TIP: Break harder cheeses such as Parmesan into bite-size pieces.
STYLE: 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 cheese at different points on the board so guests can taste a little bit of everything.
Begin thinking about the overall style of your board and place bowls of nuts in one or two strategic spots; vary the nuts, too-try the elegant Black Truffle variety of Blue Diamond Crafted Gourmet Almonds. This is the time to start thinking creatively: If your radicchio leaves are round, use them as a leafy bowl for serving the almonds.
CONDIMENTS, OLIVES, PICKLES, AND DRIED FRUIT, TOO
SELECT: Choose unusual, fun condiments and pickles to complement the cheeses and meats. We used fig jam, but sweet-savory chutneys and salty olive tapenade are other options. Pickles might be as simple as little cornichons. We also added plump figs in syrup for an exotic touch. Enjoy choosing from what's in your favorite fine-food shop. Dried fruit adds sweetness to the board, vary the shapes and colors of your selections; we went with Medjool dates and slices of dried persimmon.
STYLE: Arrange bowls containing an assortment of olives, pickles, and marinated fruits on the board. Dried fruits can go directly onto the board.
Salumi and charcuterie should be arranged next. Choose a balance of flavors, some spicy, some mild.
STYLE: Loosely fold paper-thin slices of prosciutto, serrano ham, speck or bresaola into rosettes to keep each slice separate and make them easy for guests to pick up.
SERVING TIP: Set out a small amount of each meat at a time so it doesn't get too warm and sweaty. Replenish when it's gone, or at least every hour. If you are serving pâtés or rillettes, bring them to room temperature just before the party begins. Watch to see if they start to look messy and you need to tidy them up.
THE BEAUTY OF THE SEASON
Now add all the vegetable crudités and fresh fruits for spreading and nibbling. Freshness is key to any grazing board, so be sure to keep your choices seasonal. Pomegranate seeds are a perfect treat for the occasion, and on the savory side, try crunchy spears of Treviso raddichio or endive, thin slices of fennel, and daikon radish cut in rounds.
STYLE: Aim for a full, opulent board with a casual look to encourage a relaxed environment and plenty of nibbling. Visualize your overall arrangement, then place ingredients next to their natural pairings: For example, place slices of fresh, crunchy fennel next to slices of spicy soppressata and clusters of grapes next to a kid-friendly cheese.
EVERY LITTLE THING
Last but not least, as always, keep your guests' comfort in mind. Make sure there's a utensil wherever it will be needed on the board: a knife for soft cheese, a spoon or spreader for any chutney or condiments, a pickle fork if needed, and 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!