Forget fiddly appetizers, the age of the help-yourself spread is officially here!
Shared platters are the ultimate party food for several reasons; they’re simple to put together, your guests can eat at their own pace and there’s always enough variety that even the pickiest of eaters are bound to find something they like. If you’ve seen an uptick of party platter images on social media lately and would like to make your own (but feel slightly intimidated by their opulence) have no fear, this article will break down the necessary equipment, essential food components, and provide inspiration for your very own holiday party spreads.
The right equipment for the perfect platter
A platter: Whether it’s a platter, a cheeseboard, a large plate, or a piece of finished, food-safe wood you’ll need something to display all the food in a way that’s accessible for your guests. If you’re having a large party or open house it’s a good idea to have a couple of platters spread out around the house. Likewise, if you’re anticipating a longer event it’s a good idea to have extra platters to switch out with the empty ones.
Ramekins: Ramekins or other small bowls are ideal for holding foods that are runny (such as mustard) or that have the potential to roll off the platter (loose olives rarely stay put on a flat surface). Don’t worry about trying to find matching bowls, platters look beautiful with an interesting assortment of shapes and sizes. Estate sales and thrift shops are a great place to find unique dishes on a budget.
Cutlery: Small cheese knives or kitchen paring knives are important if the platter includes cheese, pâté or rillettes; spoons can be used to scoop up condiments and extra soft cheeses. Tongs and forks are optional, depending on the contents of your platter but are helpful if you’re serving cold cuts and other sliced meats.
Assorted extras: Napkins (cloth or paper), tags to identify the food, a small bowl or container for olive pits, and bread or cracker baskets.
Choosing food for the ultimate party platter
Cheese: Everyone loves cheese (and with the increasing availability of plant-based cheeses, that can now include vegans!) Cheese plates can feature one or several cheeses; if you’re picking one showstopper cheese (such as a big hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a wedge of blue cheese or a wheel of brie or camembert) you have the option of picking out one or two complementary wines to pair with the cheese. Otherwise, choose an assortment of cheeses based on texture and range of flavour.
Meat: Visit your local deli for a good selection of sliced meats, pâté, rillettes, and dried cured meats. As with the cheese, there are now many plant-based “meat” spreads made from soaked nuts, mushrooms, and other veggies.
Accoutrements: A good selection of accoutrements is a must-have for any spread. Fresh and dried local fruit are an easy way to add a pop of colour and sweetness to any spread, choose bright fruits that are in peak form and in-season. Olives, cornichons, and other pickled veggies add variety and are particularly good served next to charcuterie items.
General tips for putting together the perfect spread
Choose a theme: If the thought of putting together a party platter is overwhelming try structuring the food around a theme.
- Italian antipasto: One or several Italian cheeses (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola, Fontina, fresh mozzarella or burrata, or pecorino), assorted deli items (pickled peppers, marinated artichokes, and olives), cured meats (prosciutto, salami or capocolla), and melon slices.
- Ploughman’s plate: Blue Stilton and Cheddar cheese (or try Wensleydale, Caerphilly or Red Leicester if they’re available), halved or quartered hard boiled eggs, mustard, Branston pickle, picacilli relish, cold chicken, and fresh apples or pears.
- Spanish tapas platter: Manchego or Drunken Goat cheese, tinned anchovies or octopus (spritz with lemon juice before serving), thinly sliced serrano ham, olives, Marcona almonds, quince jam or jelly, and fresh or dried figs.
Make the spread as inviting as possible: Ensure your guests know that they can help themselves to the platter by positioning ingredients outwards (this makes it easier to dig in, especially with big wedges of cheese.) Anything that is pre-cut (such as fruit or meat) should be bite-sized to avoid the need for extra cutlery.
Serve the platter at room temperature: Take the trays out of the fridge about an hour before your guests are expected (half an hour if you have a warm house.) Platters can take up a lot of valuable fridge real estate during a party, especially if drinks are also being chilled. A garage or balcony can make a good temporary storage space, just make sure the platter is well-wrapped.