How to Make Meat-and-Cheese Trays

Meat-and-cheese trays make an appearance on the buffet table at many family gatherings, graduation celebrations and parties. But they can be pricey. If you're tired of paying the big bucks for deli-produced meat-and-cheese trays, or you hunger for a custom charcuterie creation, a homemade platter is just the ticket. By pairing the proper meats with the correct cheeses and adhering to some basic folding techniques, your meat-and-cheese trays can rival anything made by the professionals.

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Selecting the Meat

Traditional Tray

Cold cuts for a meat-and-cheese tray can range from basic to unusual. For a basic platter, start with three types of meat such as baked ham, turkey and roast beef. Change it up a bit by replacing the roast beef with corned beef or pastrami. Alternatively, exchange the typical oven-roasted turkey breast with a honey-roasted or smoked variety, or substitute thin slices of deli chicken breast.

Charcuterie Tray

Cured meats are more extravagant and offer a sophisticated flair to the typical meat-and-cheese tray. Create a charcuterie platter with a combination of three or four thinly sliced meats such as prosciutto -- Italian cured ham; Genoa salami, capicola -- made from pork shoulder soaked in brine and then cured; soppressata -- dry-cured sausage; mortadella -- Italian bologna; or pepperoni.

Pairing the Cheese

Traditional Tray

If you're creating a basic meat-and-cheese tray of ham, turkey and beef intended for sandwich fixings, opt for thin slices of traditional cheeses such as American, Swiss, pepper jack, Colby or muenster. These cheeses -- particularly the white variety -- also are a suitable complement to corned beef or pastrami.

Charcuterie Tray

When pairing cured meats with cheese, offer cheeses with a variety of textures that range from soft to hard. For example, plain fresh or marinated mozzarella, brie or Edam cheese are a fitting contrast to salty, whole-muscle cured meats such as prosciutto. Also provide a semi-soft cheese such as Havarti, provolone or Gouda, and a hard/sharp cheese such as white cheddar or Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you are serving a spicy meat, offset the heat with ricotta or goat cheese.

Folding the Meat

When you are making a meat-and-cheese tray with slices of cold cuts, the Gordon Food Service website suggests four basic methods for folding the slices for display on the plate.

  • Rolling method. Start at one end of a piece of meat and roll it in until it reaches the other end. Ensure that you place the meat on the try seam-side down.
  • Single fold. Start at the short end and fold the slice in half. 
  • "S" or fold accordion-style fold. For the "S" fold, think in terms of "thirds." With the piece of meat lying flat in front of you, fold one-third of the slice so it lines up evenly with one edge, and then fold the top third of the slice in the opposite direction so it resembles an "S" shape.
  • Ruffle fold. Do the basic "S" fold for the ruffle, except fold the slice of meat in half again. However, the ruffle fold does not work well with smaller pieces of meat.

Arranging the Tray

There are several ways to arrange a meat-and-cheese tray. A basic method is to place a layer of fresh parsley or kale around the outside edge of a large, round tray. Divide the plate into sections by placing one type of meat in a fan shape in one section, followed by one type of cheese. Alternate the meats and cheeses until the tray is filled. Garnish the center section with cherry tomatoes for a splash of color. The meat-and-cheese sections also can be divided by a very thin layer of parsley or kale, if desired.

Alternatively, if the meat-and-cheese tray consists of salty cured meats and cheeses, counterbalance the salt with a sweet center garnish such as dried apricots or nuts such as cashews, almonds or spiced pecans. The green garnish is not necessary for a charcuterie tray, as these types of meats and cheeses present better in a more rustic arrangement.

Place bowls of juicy accompaniments next to the meat-and-cheese tray. Offering such things as olives, capers, marinated artichoke hearts, pickles, melon, fresh pineapple or honey on the side keeps the juices from saturating your meats and cheeses.


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