An Italian meat and cheese plate, also called an antipasto platter, is traditionally served as a first course before the main meal. It also makes an elegant yet hearty hors d'oeuvre offering for a party. It is made up of meats, cheeses and may contain accompaniments such as roasted vegetables or nuts. Serving bread or crackers with your platter gives your guests something to accompany the cold cuts, making it a more substantial appetizer. Choose breads with a variety of textures from soft to crisp with complementary seasonings in order to highlight the flavors of the meat and cheeses without clashing or overpowering them.
Crusty Italian bread or a French baguette cut into slices is the perfect blank canvas in which to showcase the meats and cheeses on your platter. These loaves are characterized by a crisp crust and soft, chewy interior with a mild taste. Serve slices with Genoa salami, provolone cheese and roasted peppers that have been soaked in olive oil. Guests can then make their own mini open-faced sandwiches. Another type of Italian loaf bread that would complement an antipasto platter is olive bread, a rustic loaf that green or black olives have been baked into. Olives are traditionally served with an antipasto platter, and their saltiness will complement the meats and creamier cheeses.
In Italian, “crostini” means little toasts. Artisan breads are thinly sliced, drizzled with olive oil and then lightly toasted until crisp. These thin breads work well with almost any type of topping but are especially delicious with fresh buffalo mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes. You can pile crostini with thinly sliced pieces of spicy pepperoni or prosciutto and a crack of fresh pepper and sea salt. Crostini also work well with buttery burrata cheese that can be spread atop the crisp toast. Strong, flavorful cheeses such as fresh Parmesan and asiago combine well with milder toasted breads.
Crackers and Bread Sticks
In addition to being a vehicle to hold your meat and cheese, crackers can also act as a palate cleanser to eat between bites of different flavors in order to get their full taste effect. Neutral water crackers work well with strong types of cheeses such as gorgonzola. A sturdy, stone-ground wheat cracker stands up to the weight, fat content and texture of cured meat and highlights delicate cheeses such as creamy ricotta. Thin, crispy bread sticks go well with a variety of meats and cheeses and look visually appealing placed in a pretty glass alongside your platter.
Focaccia and Garlic Bread
An Italian meat and cheese plate can be served alongside seasoned breads that will balance their flavors such as garlic, sea salt and rosemary. A crusty Italian loaf is further enhanced by the addition of garlic. Brush bread slices with olive oil and add paper-thin slices of garlic and a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley. Bake for a few minutes until the garlic becomes fragrant. Garlic bread will pair with many types of meat and works with milder cheeses. Italian flat bread, known as focaccia, goes well with a variety of Italian meats. Focaccia is usually flavored with olive oil and sea salt and often seasoned with fresh rosemary. Serve slices of warm focaccia to complement your antipasto platter.
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