Whether you are hosting the game for a crowd or just having a few people over to your house, platters of meat and cheese always go over well. You can serve them with crackers, or even set out buns with condiments so your guests can make their own sandwiches, but I find most people just like to pick away at the plates as they are.
Most grocery stores sell pre-made meat or cheese deli platters, but you can expect to pay exorbitant prices for the convenience. With a couple of easy tricks, you can make your own which will look professionally done, yet will save you some money in the end.
If you are making a meat tray, buy the deli meat at the last possible moment for maximum freshness. Once deli meat has been sliced or shaved, it is more apt to spoil so you want to work quickly and get it back in the fridge as soon as possible.
I generally choose between four and six varieties, depending on how large I want my platter. When it comes to types of meat, that is a personal choice, but I try to have:
- either a chicken or turkey
- a roast beef, pastrami, or smoked meat
- an Italian ham/bacon variety: pancetta, proscuitto, and capicola (spelling varies) are all wonderful
- several types of salami or sausage such as Genoa, cervelat, or gypsy.
If you have large slices of meat, roast beef for example, roll each piece into a log and slice into individual-sized portions. For your salamis or other rounds, cut each piece into halves or fold into quarters. Your platter will look fuller, and each slice will be bite-sized and easy to handle.
If you are making a cheese tray: select several varieties, taking color into consideration, and cut into different shapes. Some work better as cubes, others are better sliced. I try to buy Gouda and Havarti that has already been pre-sliced by the deli to save some time and effort. Cheddar varieties are very versatile, so I usually leave them until last to see what shapes my other pieces have ended up as. For instance, if most of your cheese has been cubed or sliced very thin, cut the cheddar into strips to balance out the plate.
As far as cost, don't buy more than you need. My local deli sells pre-sliced packages of Havarti for about $2.00 a pack, which contains about 10 slices. Usually that is enough for a platter because I will cut each slice into four or more pieces. If you buy large packs of cheese for each of these, it will cost you a fortune. Follow the same rule for the deli meats. I buy double the amount of anything that is on special, and just round out the platter with a smaller portion of the salami, sausage, or expensive Italian hams.
When your meats and cheeses are cut, cover large platter(s) with lettuce leaves. To assemble, I generally divide each type of meat/cheese in half and arrange them opposite of each other on the platter. Present each type in a slightly different way, and try to alternate colors on the plate as much as possible.
When you are done, you want to fill in the gaps on the platter. In the pictures shown I used some fresh parsley, cherry tomatoes, and little pieces of wrapped cheese to add some color and variety to each plate. You can also use any kind of olive, different herbs, or a few mixed vegetables to complete the look.
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