• How to present the best grazing platter (and why cheese is the most important part)

How to present the best grazing platter (and why cheese is the most important part)

The days of throwing together a cheese platter of stale Jatz crackers and cheap hummus are over; grazing platters are getting bigger, more vibrant and complementary in flavour. These often metre-long concoctions of cheese, dips, seasonal fruit, nuts and other unique flavour combinations have evolved from the humble carrot stick dipper to platters beaming with delight for every occasion.

The graze-craze today

A growing appreciation for quality over quantity and an increasing accessibility to organic, boutique produce is what has contributed to the drive in creating insanely creative and flavourful grazing platters for restaurants and caterers. The ordinary consumers exposure to various honey varieties and cultured butter has built a society that appreciates intense and memorable flavour combinations and so the grazing platter is the perfect canvas on which to explore this.

Hannah Mair, co-owner of Rusti Fig, a Sydney-based deli and catering company who specialise in spectacularly thoughtful grazing platters says it’s all about variety. “Having a range of flavours and textures caters for large groups of people with varying taste palettes.” Whilst it’s impossible to please everyone in big groups, providing a platter with a range of seasonal fruits, soft and hard cheeses, sweet accompaniments and marinated vegetables means people can combine their flavours as they please.

Another key to a great grazing platter is in your methodical approach to flavours and presentation. “Being purposeful in the flavours you select means you’re not just throwing things on a plate to make it look aesthetically pleasing,” says Hannah. By choosing ingredients wisely, customers get the most out of their investments and they’re not left feeling dissatisfied. “We will always try and offer a range of flavours that complement each other. For example, three to four hard and soft cheeses, fruits such as grapes, figs and berries and a nice variety of dried fruits, nuts and cured meats for that salty and sweet combination,” she explains.

Presentation is just as important when building a grazing platter as it is for a Michelin star masterpiece. In fact, some would argue more thought needs to go into a platter when you’re dealing with considerably more surface area. “A lot of time and effort goes into colour combinations. If a platter is screaming for more vibrancy in colour, we might opt for a pesto dip as opposed to a more neutral coloured dip like hummus,” Hannah says. Try complementing your food offering with native flora and fauna for decoration by intertwining eucalyptus leaves through each platter component or by placing little jars of flowers at the centre of the platter to give it a pop of colour.

Another great way to cater for large groups of people is by upscaling your quantities and creating entire grazing tables. For weddings and occasions with over 100 people, grazing tables are a great way to spice things up with different flavours while still maintaining variety and most importantly quality at scale. “Grazing tables are also a great way to cater for business conferences or morning occasions where breakfast-type foods are required,” Hannah says. “We don’t just work with cheese and cured meats, we can also make platters with more substantial breakfast foods like mini quiches, finger sandwiches, baguettes and filo pastries.”

The Cheese

Cheese layed out on a grazing platter

Australia’s love of great cheese has stood the test of time for centuries and our shared appreciation for this versatile accompaniment is perhaps why many believe it’s the grazing platter’s beating heart. The bountiful land on which Australia is located gives restaurants and catering companies access to some of the best quality dairy products in the country. With more and more farmers looking to process their own produce, set their own prices and monitor their quality of output, we’re seeing micro-dairies producing unique sheep’s, cow’s and goat’s cheeses where no two are the same.

Just like selecting a wine to pair with a meal, selecting the cheese for your grazing platter needs to be well thought-out. Aim for a combination of textures and flavours that complement the variety of sweet and savoury notes on the platter. “The cheese is the central point of a grazing platter and should always be the first element of the platter that’s put in place. Every other element only exists to complement the briny flavours of the cheeses you’ve selected,” says Hannah.

Be sure to go for a combination of soft and mild like a triple cream brie or camembert, a strong flavoured hard cheese such as blue or gorgonzola and a tasty or vintage cheddar to complement each different element on the platter. An excellent grazing platter is one with many flavours and textures, so it’s important to include different cheeses to accompany these flavours. For instance, a mild gorgonzola goes really well with figs and honey but not necessarily a parmesan variant. Goats cheese pairs well with tamari almonds and green apples but can offer too much acidity when coupled with citrus fruits, so be cautious of this when selecting accompaniments. Offering an array of aged, soft, firm and blue gives consumers the ability to create their own flavour according to individual taste.

With Australia’s intense love of premium products and high-quality ingredients, there’s no wonder gourmet grazing platters have emerged as one of the latest rages in large-quantity catering and restaurant events. Being able to identify the most important aspects of a platter and how to pair and match them with different flavour combinations could be what sets your catering or restaurant platters apart from the rest.