Party Platter Pizzazz
By Stephanie Bishop
Whether it’s a nosh in the break room, a holiday get together, family gathering or black tie affair, a few simple added touches turn ordinary grazing to totally amazing! Many premade gourmet food gifts and store bought charcuterie platters already utilize these techniques with ready to eat collections of meats, cheeses, nuts, and sweets, but with a little know-how, your elevated presentation will make a delicious impression on your guests.
People have between five and ten thousand taste buds. The older we are the fewer we have, therefore allowing our palates to appreciate stronger and enhanced tastes. These enhancements can be achieved by paying attention to the types of taste combinations or pairings, aromas, textures, and visual appeal. Each of these elements work in harmony to create the sensation we know as delicious.
The five basic tastes are sweet, salty, bitter sour and umami or savory. Personally, I would add to that spicy, smoky and acidic as I don’t think they fit specifically into the other categories. Identifying compliments to create pairings with any food doesn’t have to be a scientific methodology, although it is in fact now a science in the food industry. A little surfing online or browsing magazines and cookbooks can get you on the path. Experimenting and trying new combinations may lead to your new holiday classic. Google “food pairings” and you will find a wealth of ideas for new combinations you may have never tried before.
Pairings like sweet and salty, hot and spicy, or classics like apple and cheddar, feta and olives, Gouda and pears or basil and Parmesan can be an inspirational place to start. Additions to your cheeseboard or party platter could include olives, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, candies, little cakes, pickles, chutneys, dips, spreads, syrups, jams, oils, vinegars, and herbs.
You can pick a theme and assemble individual creations or leave the combining up to your guests. Offering a variety of foods is also a considerate way to accommodate vegans, vegetarians and individuals with special dietary needs when you entertain.
Your beverage offerings also play a role in this culinary alchemy. It may be a spiced, hot apple cider or punch, a cool lavender lemonade, a rich, creamy hot chocolate, dark, strong coffee, wine or beer. You can smell them in your mind as you read, can’t you? Experiment with pairing foods to the drinks you will be serving. Beverages really bring into play the use of aromas. Simple toast with rich hot chocolate just became an item.
About 80% of your sense of taste comes not from your taste buds, but from your sense of smell! Try it for yourself. Hold your nose while you sip your coffee. Not nearly as appealing. Take a dab of cinnamon and put it on your tongue while you hold your nose. Dry and bitter. Try it with an assortment of foods and discover just how important your sense of smell is to the pleasure you get from food. Use your new found knowledge to explore the delicate undertones of fruits, vegetables and common items you consume every day. Notice the scent of a crisp, ripe green apple or the musk of a ripe melon. Now add a slab of creamy luscious cheese and some prosciutto to the bite and see how the pleasure factor has increased.
Crunchy, soft, creamy, chewy, juicy, meaty all describe textures of food. Serving a variety of textures to your menu adds another sensation dimension to enjoy. Soft, creamy aromatic cheese on a crispy crostini topped with an herbed bruschetta is far more enjoyable than just the cheese alone. Temperature can also be incorporated in this mix of sensation. Warm, crunchy bread, room temperature cheese, and cool bruschetta engages all of the senses. Keep temperatures separate. Cold with cold items, hot with hot. Marble and stone boards can be heated in the oven and will keep hot offerings warm, or chilled in the fridge for cold items.
Making your creations look amazing is most important and fun the element when entertaining. Think about going to a restaurant with a menu board. If the picture on the board is of a brown, lumpy mass on a plate, chances are you won’t order it even though it may taste phenomenal. Plating and presentation are the first things your guests will notice about your food. If it doesn’t look good, no one may try it.
The variety of foods in your plating will instantly add colors, textures, and interest. Cutting cheese, breads, meats or vegetables in interesting, bite-size shapes can add a whimsical touch. Using interesting serving plates, cutting boards, serving utensils, elegant knives, tiny forks or toothpicks, beautiful linens, and decorative napkins create an elegant backdrop for your feast. Edible flowers or herbs for every season can be the finishing touch.
It is time to relax, eat and savor your creations with your guests. Bon appétit!