When I recently polled my readers about what Thanksgiving recipes and topics they were most interested in, I received tons of great feedback. One of the most requested posts was about how to create a killer cheese and charcuterie platter and let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier about it.
The more I have entertained over the years, the more I have leaned away from starters and appetizers that require much effort in the way of preparation. I have enough to do with meal and dessert prep, beverage stocking, and housekeeping to worry about making various individual appetizer bites. Particularly because appetizers are enjoyed while mingling and thus won’t be the primary focus of anyone’s attention, simple snacks are ideal. I like to make my life easy by relying on a fantastic cheese and charcuterie platter and some good wines to get the party started.
As simple as the overall concept is, I also understand how it can be intimidating if you haven’t experimented with this type of spread before. I used to feel the same way. How do I know what to include? How many items? Where should I buy things? How much should I purchase? While the beauty of this approach is that there is really no wrong way, I’m here to share all my tips for creating a platter that will both wow and satisfy.
Where should you buy cheese and meat?
I do my best to support small local businesses whenever possible, and creating a cheese and charcuterie platter is a great opportunity to do just that! Find a local grocery, cheese shop, or butcher shop that carries a good selection of these sorts of items. I promise, they are going to be infinitely better than what you might find in a larger supermarket – even the higher end ones.
What variety of cheese and meat should you include?
There is no hard and fast rule for this, but I do have a sort of general formula I use. Typically, I include 3-4 soft to semi-soft cheeses, 1-2 hard cheeses, and possibly a blue cheese. I personally don’t like blue cheese but especially for larger gatherings I tend to include it because many people do like it.
As for meat, I tend to provide a few less options than the number of cheeses I am offering because people seem to eat a bit less of it. I generally have about 3-4 varieties, including one prosciutto and then whatever else looks and sounds good that is available when I am picking things out.
The shop owners and sales people at the grocery or cheese shop are an incredibly valuable resource for selecting exactly which items you might want to purchase. They know about the flavors and textures, what items might compliment each other, and often know about the producers as well. Also be sure to discuss any particular preferences or dislikes with them so they can direct you to things you would like best and steer you away from things you might not care for.
How much of each item should you buy?
This is something I am never good at figuring out, but I have a few tips for you. Again, the store clerks can be a huge help in determining the correct quantities. If I am not sure on the number of ounces I want, I often discuss with them what else I plan to be providing and the number of guests I expect. Sometimes providing them with approximate dimensions of the platter you are envisioning can also be helpful. Finally, it’s always better to err on the side of too much so when in doubt, buy a little extra. You won’t be sad to have it for snacking on later.
What other items should be included besides cheese and meat?
Fresh fruits – Rely on seasonal items here. For fall and winter, apple and pear slices are great options. In spring and summer, berries and peaches work beautifully. A few stems of grapes work well anytime of year.
Pickled things – Who doesn’t love pickles? Cornichons are one of the most obvious and classic choices here but other interesting pickled veggies are also great options. I used carrots pickled with IPA in this instance. See what unique options your shop has that look good.
Nuts – You can get a bit fancy and include spiced or candied nuts, or keep it simple with roasted and salted nuts. Marcona almonds are my absolute favorite, and these bar nuts are another staple I adore.
Dried fruits – Another super easy thing to include that requires minimal thought. I honestly use whatever I happen to have in the pantry which is usually dried cranberries and dried cherries, but you could add more interesting options such as dried mango or dates.
Jam, jelly, compote and more – Anything in the realm of fruit preserves is a good option. Again, I would look for something that fits seasonally such as apple or pear butter or cranberry sauce in the fall and winter, and berry or peach preserves in the summer. You can also make your own if you’re feeling a little bit extra.
Mustards and savory sauces – I don’t always include these but I might if I see something that piques my interest. In this case I decided to try a smokey onion mustard and it’s damn good.
Crackers, bread, and other vehicles – Many of us love our carbs and in the case of a cheese and meat platter, they offer a perfect way to deliver these tasty bites to our mouths. I keep these offerings relatively simple since there is so much else to choose from. I like to offer baguette slices, thin flat crackers, and occasionally a gluten free option if a guest might need that.
Oooh, the accoutrement can be almost just as much fun as all the rest of it! Again, there are no hard and fast rules here but there are so many good options!
Anything else to consider?
Pre-slice the baguette so they don’t have to saw off their own piece.
Provide spoons for jams and sauces so they don’t have to awkwardly dip anything.
Offer plenty of small cheese knives so guests easily serve themselves. (You could pre-slice the cheeses but I typically don’t since they are easy to cut, guests can customize their serving size, and soft cheeses don’t do well pre-sliced anyway. I have an assortment of knives I have collected over the years from Crate & Barrel.
The last thing you need to keep in mind is easy access so guests can grab whatever they need.