How to Create a Grazing Board
I've really gotten into grazing boards these past couple of months. I love that grazing boards are visually impactful, minimize plastic waste, and make it easy for guests to nibble and mingle during a party.
Choosing Your Theme
The first thing I do when planning out a grazing table is to choose a theme. I recommend choosing a theme that you can showcase through food selection as well as decorations. For example- I once held a Mamma Mia Mediterranean party. For my grazing table I focused on offering lots of Mediterranean inspired foods - pita chips and dip, feta cheese based snacks, orzo salad and more. For decorations I included garlands of faux flowers (my go to- so impactful and you can use it over and over again!), and lots of lemons. Alternatively, I've also thrown an Autumn Brunch- in that case I anchored the decorations with fall leaves and pumpkins and then offered pumpkin bread, a bagel sandwich board, coffee cake and more.
Creating Your Display
When setting up my grazing board, the first thing I do is lay and tape down butcher paper. The butcher paper offers a clean neutral surface to display the food on. Depending on your presentation surface, it can also help connect multiple tables together to create a bigger display surface. The best part is, it makes for super easy clean up afterwards.
From there, I like to set out my display trays. To make the table more visually appealing, I try to create different height variations across the table. If you do not own stands that help you do this, an easy way to create height variation is to place plates on top of vases. Bonus points- you can then fill those vases with fruit or flowers to tie back to your overall theme. I typically like to plot out my display placement before I go grocery shopping. This really helps me determine what food would best fit the display trays and helps me only get what I really need.
The next step is decorations. I like to place decorative items on the table before I place the food. Symmetry is your friend here. Place the biggest display pieces in the middle of your table (pumpkins, etc) and then build out the display from there. Try to mirror the sequence on both sides. This is where your display trays can really play in as well- try to offer the same amount and match the heights of the display trays on either side of your table. While it is important to repeat your display on either side of the table I would not recommend building out your trays and decorations in a straight line. Creating a zig zag pattern can help break the table into sections, allowing you to create food vignettes.
Placing your food can seem daunting at first. Remember that you only really need to plot out one side- from there you can mimic the same food placement on the other side of the table. This also helps you buy food in bulk and hopefully helps minimize the amount of waste you ultimately have. Place the hero foods on the display trays. From there build out your food vignettes by placing complementary foods around the base of your display. This allows guests to easily pair together complementary flavors in a couple of bites.
Choosing Your Food
What are hero foods? These are what I consider to be the most visually impactful foods which will sit on your display trays. I typically like to feature variations of crostini or other show-stopping appetizers. Try to see if you can pull in elements of your decorations- for example if you are doing a fall theme and are featuring a lot of pumpkins, figs and berries, try to choose a recipe that uses those ingredients in a clear way. Remember you can feature each recipe at least twice on the board. This make the total workload a lot less daunting.
To complete your vignette, choose 2-3 bulk foods that complement your flavors of your hero foods. When I say bulk foods I typically mean chips, cheeses, meats, fruits, and chocolates; minimal prep foods that you can lay out and be ready to go. You could repeat some of the ingredients of your hero food, or you can choose something that enhances the hero food flavors. For example- if your hero food is on the sweeter side and features goat cheese and strawberries, I would then include chocolate in that vignette. If your food is more savory, you can pair it with a hard cheese and meat. If you have trouble finding good food pairings, the internet is your friend! A quick Google search typically helps me to decide what to feature together.
And those are the basics! The best part of a grazing table is that it is not an exact science- while the above are best practices you can really make it what you want.