Why we’ve all gone crazy for ‘grazing’: Forget canapes and cocktail sausages. The chicest hosts now wow their guests with picture-perfect platters
- Grazing tables have increased in popularity at events since the end of lockdown
- various delicacies are artfully laid out to remove awkward side of social events
- UK-based cookery writer Rose Prince, shares advice for creating a spread
Remember the cold buffet, the kitsch of party catering? Pineapple chunks stabbed with cheese and ham on cocktail sticks, platters of devilled eggs and the dreaded chicken in aspic, without which no function was complete.
Today, astonishingly, the ‘spread’ is back — but in a very different form. Welcome to the summer grazing table, the cold buffet of the Instagram era, where the art of entertaining is taken to extraordinary levels.
Think of a Dutch still life you can actually eat. The best of seasonal fruits, vegetables, pickles, artisan breads, cheeses and more, piled on to a dining table that is not just a feast for the stomach but also for the eyes.
There are no separate serving plates, and ‘tools’ are reduced to cocktail sticks or little tongs made from bamboo. The food goes straight on to the (clean) table, with perhaps a sheet of baking parchment here or there to catch crumbs or drips.
Cookery writer Rose Prince, shares advice for creating a successful spread as the trend for grazing tables (pictured) gains popularity
The beauty of the grazing table is not only in the way it looks but also in its please-all variety. The various delicacies are laid out — artfully, mind you — for guests to pick at as the party progresses. No waiters, no enquiries as to ‘beef or salmon?’, no clearing necessary or a host sweating to heat things up.
Behind the idea lies the ambition to remove the awkward side of social events: it is a more convivial form of eating, with no more squirming in the queue for food, self-consciously clutching a plate.
If the various ingredients for the grazing table have been distributed well, the idea is not only to help yourself but perhaps offer a tidbit of this or that to another guest and begin a conversation with ease rather than embarrassment. Food is a leveller.
I love grazing tables. Since the end of lockdown, their popularity at events like weddings has soared both here and in America. It is democratic catering, jaw-droppingly good-looking and also value for money.
Guests react diversely to this type of offering. Some pile in, taking up a permanent position by the table; others take a little something, then nothing more. There is undoubtedly less waste.
Guests divide on the way they eat socially, but most agree that being pestered to take a canapé is a conversation stopper. In my experience, those who want to eat will happily seek it out.
Catering firms who specialise in ‘grazing’ charge by the metre of table. Grape & Fig, a catering company which focuses on grazing tables, start at £305 for one metre, feeding 30, up to a 12-metre table feeding 360 for £3,605.
This may seem pricey, but when you considering how much it would cost to cater for the same number at a sit-down meal, it is still a cheaper way to feed a crowd.
Rose (pictured) said grazing tables are an opportunity to support local businesses, as it’s essential to choose food that have a handmade look
It can, of course, be done for less without help. Then it becomes a matter of shopping well and keeping in your mind’s eye how well all the food on the table will go together, and, in order to create the strongest impact, how the colours and shapes will coordinate.
So au revoir, les canapés; see you later, reheated spring rolls; and good riddance to the bill for catering hire. With the arrival of the grazing table, a host can now be a guest at their own party and the buffet is no longer cold but very chilled.
HOW TO CREATE A SUCCESSFUL SPREAD
Plan: A grazing table with wide appeal is one made of foods that can sit side by side, that go well together but offer choice to people with divergent diets, from carnivores to flexitarians to vegans.
For the protein, choose cured meat (charcuterie), cheeses and a lemony dip made with blended pulses. Add raw or steamed vegetables, something substantial such as new potatoes; peppery salad leaves, ripe seasonal fruit, handsome artisan bread, crackers and pickles.
Shop: This is a chance to support your best local deli, artisan bakery or greengrocer and buy good-quality cheeses and deli goods. While a whole or half cheese may cost more, grazing tables are still very good value when feeding a large number. Choosing food that not only tastes the best but has that special, handmade look is essential.
Design: Next to quality comes colour and shape. The fun in making the table look beautiful is to choose foods that look pretty side by side: figs next to ham, colourful pickles by cheese, breads and crispy breads that come in interesting shapes.
Rose recommends putting the food in groups, while blending greens, deep reds, pinks and pale yellows
Greens, deep reds, pinks, pale yellows and biscuit-brown blend beautifully. Structure is important. Put the food in groups — cheeses in one place, meat another — not blended together in rows or it will look like an Axminster carpet.
Prepare: You can set up a grazing table in good time before the doorbell goes but do allow yourself plenty of time to ‘build’. This is the easy way to cater but the presentation needs time and thought.
It is great fun to do but not if you’ve left it all to the last minute. Make sure essentials like bread and pickles are distributed all over the table — what you don’t want is a five-deep queue for them.
Be Safe: Criticism of grazing tables concentrates on food safety. Some abhor the idea of 100 people picking up food with their fingers, thinking it unsafe, especially at the moment.
Hosts should provide cocktail sticks and small bamboo skewers for guests to use instead of fingers. And choose foods that sit well at an ambient temperature for a matter of three hours, handle it cleanly and divide it into groups (meat in one area, smoked fish another etc): it should be common sense.
Prepare as near as possible to the start of the party, leaving the more volatile foods (cured meat or smoked fish) until last. Keep your hands very clean, washing them between handling each food group.
Take Care: Keep ingredients well spaced if they could cross-contaminate. If food is placed on the table within two hours before serving, all should be safe. But keep proteins — fish, meat and cheese — apart.
THE PRETTY WAY TO STICK TO THAT DIET
Laura Billington, 43, (pictured) set up Graze Cheshire last year and has penned a book sharing advice for creating grazing plates
Fresh, delicious, artistically arranged platters — assembled just for you. Laura Billington set up Graze Cheshire last year and her new book, Inspired Grazing, shows you how to create grazing plates that are as much a feast for the eyes as they are for the tastebuds.
Laura, 43, a mother of three, started experimenting with grazing boards and plates in July 2020 and, thanks to high demand for her plates, which start from £40, has now quit her job in law to focus on it full time.
Here, with the help of nutritionist Amanda Hamilton, she has put together five plates for whatever diet you’re following — plus one cheat plate for when you’re having a bad day and the diet’s gone out of the window.
500 CALORIES PLATE
Laura said start with the biggest objects and work down to the smallest, when constructing a grazing plate. Pictured: 500 calories plate
For those doing an intermittent fasting diet, everything on this plate adds up to 500 calories for you to graze on throughout the day. ‘When constructing a grazing plate, start with the biggest objects and work down to the smallest,’ says Laura. ‘Always begin by placing your dipping pots on the plate, then artfully arrange everything else around them.’
You’ll need: 200g pot of tzatziki at 120 calories (such as M&S), 3 small carrots, 3 stalks celery, 100g blueberries threaded on to skewers, 1 little gem lettuce, half cucumber in ribbons and batons, 2 rice cakes in quarters, 3 slices watermelon, 100g sugar snaps.
All above plates use edible flowers (available at Waitrose and M&S) to garnish.
Laura recommends focusing on plants known for antioxidants and polyphenols, when creating an anti-ageing plate (pictured)
The focus is on antioxidants and polyphenols found in plants that help protect the body from the ageing effects of oxidative stress from free radicals and toxins.
You’ll need: 1 cooked chicken breast sliced, 1 red pepper, 100g blueberries, 200g black grapes, 100g pickled red cabbage, 100g silverskin onions, small bar of high-quality dark chocolate, half a sweet potato and quarter of butternut squash roasted in olive oil for 45 mins then cubed. Thyme and flowers to garnish.
Laura said you’ll need plate that is high in good fats, has moderate protein and low carbs, when following a keto diet
Those who follow a Keto diet (designed to help your body burn fat for fuel and aid weight loss) need a plate that is high in good fats, has moderate protein and low carbs.
You’ll need: Bresaola rolled and secured with cocktail stick, half head of cauliflower roasted for 45 mins, half head broccoli roasted for 20 mins, baby spinach, pistachios, walnuts, 2 boiled eggs quartered, half a green and red pepper, 80g large green olives, 6 slices of goat’s cheese.
Laura suggests a mixture of phytoestrogen-rich foods, fibre, calcium and omega 3s when following a diet beneficial to the menopause
This plate is a mixture of phytoestrogen-rich foods to help balance hormone levels, fibre to balance blood sugars, calcium for bone strength, omega 3s to lubricate the joints and turmeric for inflammation.
You’ll need: Edamame beans, two types of cheese, oat cakes, sliced cucumber and celery, celery leaves, almonds, walnuts, fresh salmon, turmeric hummus (shop-bought or use the recipe below) and mint.
To make the hummus, drain and rinse 2 tins of chickpeas (leaving some aside for decoration). Put in a food processor along with 2 cloves of peeled garlic, 6 tbsp tahini, 6 tbsp olive oil, the zest and juice of a lemon, 1 tsp ground turmeric, ½ tsp ground nutmeg and pinch of salt. Whiz together.
Laura revealed it’s possible to create a plate filled with the essentials for consuming ten-a-day
Forget five-a-day — research now suggests eating ten-a-day is the best way to live longer.
You’ll need: 2 carrots cut into batons, 8 cherry tomatoes, 2 kiwi fruit, red/green peppers, 10 strawberries, 1 stick celery chopped, 40g spinach, cucumber in rounds and batons, guacomole and beetroot hummus (whiz cooked beetroot in a blender with 2 tins of chickpeas, 2 cloves garlic, 6 tbsp tahini, 6 tbsp olive oil, juice and zest of 1 lemon and pinch of salt).
Laura said a mix of snacks in co-ordinating and complementary colours is great for movie nights
‘These are great for movie nights,’ says Laura. ‘You need a mix of snacks in co-ordinating and complementary colours.’
you’ll need: Strawberry bon bons, pink fudge, lemon drizzle biscuits, pear drops, strawberry and cream truffles, chocolate pretzels, cupcakes, chocolate buttons, milky bar Cookies ‘N Cream Bites, pink and yellow Squashies and marshmallows.
Interview: Claudia Connell
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