Class up a basic party platter
“Grazing board” is a term that’s become popular to describe abundant-looking snacking platters that often incorporate veggies, meats, cheeses, and other snackable foods like nuts, olives, and pickles. While charcuterie boards and veggie platters have long been party staples, this combine-it-all-on-one-board trend really seems to have taken off. And I love it! I love sharing hand-held food at a party and it’s an even easier way to entertain.
I don’t consider myself to be really artistic or have strong plating skills as a chef, but after practicing these boards, I figured out a few principles behind what I think makes them look good. So of course I wanted to share those tips with you!
These were not hard to make and actually not that expensive, especially compared to a traditional charcuterie board that needs lots of expensive meat. For the group I made the photographed boards for, I included meat, cheese, and veggies, but you could easily take these principles and apply it to a vegetarian board or even a vegan board. There are lots of fancy vegan cheeses on the market now and my Mushroom Walnut Pate would be divine on any board.
Here are 7 tips to creating pretty grazing boards:
Cluster single items together into large swathes for color and textural contrast on your board. If everything is all mixed together it can be too much for your eye to take in, so I think big colored clusters works best. Also try using colorful dips like beet hummus or green goddess dressing to create large pops of color.
A board with some height variation looks more abundant and visually interesting. Some ways to do this:
Thinly slice meats so they stack up high.
Try adding small bowls, mason jars, vases or cake plates for olives, nuts, or dips, to add more height and dimension to your board.
Lay some veggies flat and pile others on top of each other to create variation.
Pick a Theme
Grazing boards usually incorporate meats, cheese, and veggies but try picking a general theme so the presentation isn’t too chaotic. The theme could be as simple as seasonal summer ingredients or it could highlight a particular culture like Mediterranean mezze, or a menu like lox and bagels. A theme could even be a couple of colors like purple and green or shades of green.
Use Odd Numbers and Organic Shapes
Avoid the “wreath” formation for dip and crudite if you can. Try assembling foods in curves and clusters instead of following a strict geometric pattern like lines or a circle. 3 is always a good go-to (ex: 3 types of cheese, 3 types of veggies, etc.) But I also like to use the number 5 (3 types of cheese + 2 types of meat).
Get the Best Ingredients
High quality and seasonal ingredients will make your board shine! There’s no substitute for the appeal nature gives seasonal, ripe, and vibrant foods. For example, try strawberries and asparagus on a spring board, berries and sun gold tomatoes on a summer board, pears and roasted squash fries on a fall board, and load up a winter board with pomegranates and citrus like satsumas. Here’s a few of my favorite storebought options:
Plants: Here are a few of my favorite fruit and veggie picks:
Purple cauliflower or carrots
Breakfast radishes with the leaves
Baby vegetables like zucchini, turnips, or carrots
The best-looking berry available
Cherry tomatoes on the vine
English cucumbers sliced on the bias
Roasted root vegetable fries like beets, sweet potato or potato
Dips: I’m naturally partial to the Field + Farmer dips (because I formulated them! You can see an example on the grazing board below. FYI this company was formerly called Here.) They come in bright, natural colors which make a board pop. I also like the housemade dips from Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville.
Meats/Cheeses: I don’t generally do charcuterie but if I’m making the board for a client, I like to choose some kind of salami like sopressata and prosciutto because they can be sliced thin to add height. Plus that way you can stretch a small quantity. For cheeses, nothing beats Drunken Goat and I also like to choose some crowd-pleasing options like Manchego, Gouda, or Cheddar.
Garnish with Green
Take your board to the next level by garnishing with fresh herbs, produce leaves, or edible flowers. It will add extra freshness and glamour to your board. Great garnishing items include mint, basil, or rosemary, fresh bay leaves, pea shoots, microgreens, bachelor buttons, marigolds, pansies, or chamomile.
Get a Pretty Board
Slate, marble and wood all make versatile bases for these grazing boards. I’ve noticed that slate can get stained by oil from cheeses and marble is known to get discolored by acidic ingredients, so you just have to be more careful with those two. Wood is nice because it’s also lightweight (which is nice if you want to make the board ahead of time and store in the fridge). You’ll just want to be sure to handwash it and take care of it (possibly oiling it periodically) to make sure that it stays food safe. Wood is porous and so can hold on to bacteria if you don’t follow care instructions. Looking for a new board? Here are my favorite affordable slate, marble, and wood boards from Amazon.*
Happy grazing! Have any tips I left out? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.