There’s nothing quite like a platter of deliciousness to serve guests, but with a little pre-thinking, you’ll soon become known as the hostess with the mostest. Platters are the ultimate in group dining and act as the perfect centre piece for your next gathering.
The simplicity is part of the beauty, but it also means that things can get deathly boring. To avoid this and elevate your platters to perfection, you’ll want to get the balance of flavours and textures right.
Quality trumps quantity here and you want to include a simple selection of the best ingredients possible and let them speak for themselves.
Obviously we’re all about the base. Your perfect ingredients are only as good as what you put them on, so put some thought into this one. We’re big fans of using wooden boards to serve platters, or crisp white ceramics. For something a bit more surprising and off-kilter try a slate board for a darker backdrop. Citta and Father Rabbit stock beautiful slate boards. With dips and other little delicious things, you’ll want some small ramekins. Buying dips, relishes and the like is absolutely fine. What’s not is serving them straight from their cheap and nasty plastic pottles. Come on. You’ll also want some nice cheese knives—one for each.
The star of the show—the fromage. Ideally you want one soft, one blue, one hard and perhaps one inventive. Always do at least two, but never more than five or things can get outta hand. For soft cheese, look past the predictable brie and camembert and go for something more exotic like Epoisse or Saint Marcellin. With blues, Kapiti Kikorangi is a crowd pleaser, or Kingsmeade’s Sunset Blue is a stellar and slightly more interesting option. Mahoe’s Very Old Edam fits the bill perfectly on the hard front, or opt for a Dutch style vintage Gouda. For something to really elevate your cheese selection to new heights, include a surprise like Whangaripo’s buffalo brie with its dark ash rind, or go for a truly decadent approach and bake a wheel of Kapiti Ramara—stick a few sprigs of rosemary & a generous grind of black pepper and pop in a hot oven for 10-15 mins. Your guests will be suitably impressed.
We suggest going for a cured meat like prosciutto or salami (serve whole with a small number of slices to get the party started) and a creamy pâté. Little meatballs with toothpicks are also a nice nibbly option as is terrine.
To get the balance right, we believe that seafood should be in the mix. Smoked or marinated mussels is a nice addition to any board, or hot smoked salmon always goes down a treat. Of course, a little bowl of garlic prawns never goes amiss either.
Whether it’s pesto, hummus, babaganoush or something yoghurt, go for the best you can find. No kiwi onion allowed. Garnish with a sprinkle of seeds or herbs and voilà that dip is no longer just a dip. That said, making dips at home is easy-peasy, especially hummus. All it takes is a can of hummus and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and you’ll be revered for your skills in the kitchen, regardless of whether there’s any truth in that or not.
All of these beautiful elements need something to sit on to make their way from platter to mouth. Go for a couple of different starches—a fresh baguette with butter, some plain water crackers and something more robust like Bonnie Good’s superlative oatcakes, Line’s Knaekbrod or everyone’s favourite, 180 Degree oat crackers. If you have gluten free platter participants, you may want to add in some brown rice crackers.
Here’s where we really begin to get that balance we were talking about. A fruit paste is always a good idea and fig is the safest bet for matching your selection of cheeses. Some fresh or dried figs is a beautiful addition or dried Central Otago apricots. Add a small bunch of muscatels for an air of sophistication or go the extra mile and add some fresh honeycomb.
Again, this is here for balance. Almonds are a great option, as are walnuts. Olives are goodies, although they don’t provide quite the same crunch factor—if going for the olive option, make sure you have empty ramekins for the stones.
Of course, your perfect platter must also be matched with a liquid that matches all your efforts. Viognier is a great food wine and matches most antipasto well. Rosé is another fantastic option and is perfect for sunny afternoon wining and dining sessions. See here for our pick of the season’s rosés.
We shop for our platter ingredients at Farro Fresh, Nosh Food Market, Sabato and the Dairy. The deli sections at your local supermarket often have lots of these items too. Make sure that you portion correctly—plan for around 100g of cheese per person and four slices of meat. Don’t go overboard if it’s a precursor to dinner—especially if that dinner is to be home-cooked by you! Also, bring all the ingredients (except the seafood) out of the fridge 45 mins before assembling and serving—they taste their best at room temp.
And if you’d rather have someone make your platter? You’ll find some gems in our list of Auckland’s Cheesiest Dishes.
Image credit: Design Mom