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The Anatomy of a Grazing Table

grazing table with bread, olives, and jam

A perfected grazing table is the majesty of gastronomic entertainment. Let me guide you to success.

Whether you’re a social butterfly or introverted hermit, at some point in life, you will be required to graciously entertaining friends, family, and community. Developing the panache to pull together a sumptuous feast for any occasion, is an invaluable talent. I’m going to share with you, the wisdom I’ve gained from years as a private chef and caterer, to empower you to entertain with confidence.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Grazing Table
  • Create a Solid Vision & Plan
  • How to Build a Grazing Table 
  • Food for Thought
  • 7 Recipes to Add a Homemade Touch to Your Grazing Table 
  • Recommendations for Sourcing Ingredients 

What is a Grazing Table

Grazing tables are vibrant, elegant feasts made of small bites of food meant for “grazing” on, while socializing.

They are part interactive culinary experience, part art installation, and are designed to welcome, pamper and encourage guests to mingle. Grazing tables have both style and luxury in abundance, but come with less hassle than your standard catering or dinner party; think cheese or charcuterie board but hardier, and with more accompaniments and nuance.

Grazing tables are highly customizable, scalable and can be crafted to appeal to almost any palate, preference, occasion, theme, or budget. With an understanding of a few key elements for the design and architecture of a grazing table, even the most novice hot/hostess will have the skills to assemble a luscious, multi-chromatic, culinary display that conveys abundance, cheer and whimsy.

Create a Solid Vision and Plan

  1. Budget

Develop a budget that allows for a little wiggle room to cover a few unanticipated costs.

  1. Event Type & Theme

Type – holiday gathering, office party, corporate luncheon, baby shower, graduation, wedding reception, gala, glamping, birthday, grand opening, tasting, brunch, dinner party, supper club, bachelor/bachelorette party, book club, anniversary, etcetera.
Theme – Winter wonderland, fall harvest, Day of the Dead, spring floral, tropical Tiki, fairytale, country chic, modern, speakeasy, black tie, great Gatsby, nautical, game day, medieval, spa, masquerade ball, murder mystery, casino night; your imagination is your only limitation.

  1. Color, Palette & Presentation

Color palette – Black and white, gauzy pink, jewel toned, au natural, soft pastel, shocking neon, opulent gold, sunshine yellow, under the sea blue/green, and so on.\
Presentation – One long table, multiple tables, flat lay, dimensional, continuous spread, sections, grazing boxes, cones or mini boards for pre-portioned items; get creative.

  1. Location & Logistics

Location – Event space, office, home, park; and the like.
Logistics – Indoor, outdoor, storage, refrigeration; and any other location specifics.

  1. Date & Time

Decide on a firm date and time for your event. This will help you plan for shopping, preparation and food safety.

  1. Attendance

Have a master guest list and keep track of rsvp’s so you know the final guest count.

  1. Dietary Preferences & Restrictions

You will need to provide for guests with dietary preferences and restrictions. In some cases, this may affect placement of specific items on the table.

  1. Menu, Shopping List & Ingredient Source

Grazing table contents can be fancy or simple, homemade or store bought. Come up with your menu, then decide what décor and ingredients you’ll need, where and when to source them. This is the perfect time to have fun and sample items from local farms, farmer’s markets, and/or specialty grocers.

  1. Create a Timeline

Create a timeline or calendar that plots out when you will shop and cook/bake homemade goods. You will also want to decide timing for things that need to be done the day of the event, such as building the grazing table, when and how to replace or replenish food for safety and aesthetics.

How to Build a Grazing Table

  • The average small/medium grazing table, takes about 1 -2 hours to build.
  • Position the table so guests can graze from all sides.
  • If your grazing table is outside during the summer months, position it in the shade. Use a fan if needed to keep the meat and cheese from “sweating” and the flies at bay.
  • Start your table architecture, by covering it with cloth or kraft paper. Then build out from the center of your table, using the tallest pieces of serving ware and décor, descending to smallest, working outwards and to the ends of the table
  • You choice of tableware will enhance the beauty of your table, be creative. Options include, cake stands, tiered stands, wooden boards, platters, marble or slate slab, wood or wire boxes and baskets, and all manner of decorative cloche.
  • Keep tableware complimentary, consistent, neutral, and stick with your theme.
  • Scatter different types and colors of food for a beautifully balanced look.
  • Place complimentary food near each other.
  • Make the grazing table user friendly. Pre-cut salami style meat, cut hard cheese into slices, shards, or cubes. Fold thin slices of meat and ham; for soft cheese selections, keep cheese knives obvious and available.
  • You want the table to convey a sense of bounty. Fill in blank spaces with whole fruits, vegetables, bread, crackers, nuts, herbs, flowers. Overlap items on the table. You can and should use complimentary decorative elements, like candles, twigs and branches, fig, grape or eucalyptus leaves, and fairy lights; just to name a few.
  • Make dinnerware, napkins and utensils readily available. You want it to be as easy as possible for guests to tuck into a delicious plate of food.
  • For a last pop of flair and sparkle, I like to lightly spray a few areas of the display with edible glitter.

Food for Thought

There is no perfect formula for calculating the quantity of food you will need for your grazing table. A good general guideline is 12-16 oz food per adult, and 6-8 oz per child, as an entrée, not including dessert. Cut these numbers in half if your grazing table is an appetizer or first course.  Another way to calculate food quantity is 4-6 appetizers/bites per guest, per hour of your event.

The types of grazing table provisions are infinite. Variety is key to a stunning, memorable grazing table. Here are some basics to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Cheese – Serve a mix of hard, soft, semi-soft, aged, new and blue cheese. Some of my favorites include Burrata, Ricotta, Pecorino Tartufo, Comte, Manchego, Cashel Blue and Chevre.
  • Meat – Serve a mix of cured sausage, salami and pre-sliced fancy ham such as Mortadella, Iberico and Prosciutto di Parma. Rillettes and/or pate are a must. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and add items like smoked or tinned fish, oysters and caviar, Quail’s eggs and duck confit.
  • Starch – Baguette, Focaccia, Boule, biscuits, scones, cracker and grissini. Sometimes I serve gourmet popcorn with toppings like truffle salt, togarashi, curry powder or butter rum, to name a few.
  • Savory Accompaniment – fresh vegetables, marinated artichoke, cocktail onions and olives, tapenade, piquillo peppers, dilly beans, cornichons, giardiniera, pickled vegetables, smooth and whole grain mustards, dip, spread, butters, extra virgin olive oil, flavored vinegars, toasted nuts, spiced nuts, marcona almonds, American walnuts, pistachios.
  • Sweet Accompaniment – Jam, marmalade, compote, honey, honey comb, membrillo, fresh fruit, dried fruit, candied citrus peel.
  • Composed Bites – deviled eggs, tea sandwiches, tartlets, mini quiche, canape, bao buns, pot stickers, marzipan stuffed dates, caprese skewers, mini burgers, crostini/bruschetta, cocktail meatballs, cheese puffs/gougeres, arancini. This is the time and place to release your inner culinary artistry.
  • Dessert – Anything and everything sweet, in miniature, handheld form.

7 Recipes to Add a Homemade Touch to Your Grazing Table

Roasted Garlic

  • Preheat regular or toaster oven to 400 degrees F. 
  • Using one or more garlic bulbs, discard loose papery outer layers. Cut off the top ¼ – ½ inch of the bulbs to expose the tops of the cloves. 
  • Place the bulbs on a medium/large piece of tin foil. I like to put a piece or two of fresh rosemary or thyme on top of each bulb (optional). Drizzle the top of each bulb with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and fresh ground black pepper. Tightly enclose the bulbs in the foil, making an airtight packet to avoid air or oil escaping. 
  • Bake for approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on the size and number of bulbs. 
  • Remove the foil packet from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then remove the bulbs from the packet, discard the herbs. 
  • The roasted garlic is best warm from the oven but can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. When ready to eat, use your fingers to gently squeeze the soft, caramelized garlic cloves out of their skins. Consume as is, on bread, cheese, or mix with butter for a rich garlic butter. 
  • When serving roasted garlic bulbs for a grazing table, I roast several bulbs, separate each bulb into sections and put them on a platter. Guests can grab a section and squeeze out the garlicky goodness at their leisure.

Parmesan Crisps

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Grate 1 cup of Parmesan.
  • Pour heaping tablespoons of grated parmesan, onto a silicone mat or parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a ½ inch space between each mound. 
  • Lightly pat down each mound into a uniform layer to ensure the mounds bake uniformly, and come out of the oven lacy crisp.
  • You can bake as is, or top with the seasoning of your choice, such as fresh ground pepper, everything bagel seasoning, sesame seeds or finely chopped nuts. 
  • Bake for 3 to 7 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and cool. The mounds will continue to crisp as they cool. 
  • Parmesan crisps are not only tasty on their own as a snack or on a grazing table, they add fantastic flavor and texture, crumbled on top of soup or salad. 
  • Parmesan crisps can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, after that, they begin to go soft.

Rosemary Honey Dippers

  • Rosemary honey dippers are deliciously whimsical, homemade utensils used for enjoying honey. Essential oils from sprigs of rosemary infuse honey, turning it into an herbaceous, botanical nectar, that can be drizzled on cheese, bread, fruit or whatever suits your fancy.
  • To make rosemary honey dippers, take robust sprigs of fresh rosemary. Strip the leaves off of the bottom ¼ of the sprigs to make a holder, leaving the top ¾ leaves for dipping.
  • I use two methods for serving rosemary honey dippers, whichever method you use, provide enough dippers for each guest, as they are for individual use.
  • For the first method, serve the honey in a decorative bowl with sprigs of rosemary in a complimentary container beside it. You may want to use a table card to write brief directions so guests understand how to use the rosemary dippers.
  • For the second method, I serve the honey in miniature glass or ceramic pots, with the top of a honey dipper immersed in each pot. This makes for an adorable individual presentation.

Warm Citrus and Fennel Olives

Ricotta Cheese

Roasted Rosemary Almonds

Pate with Prosecco Gelee

Recommendations for Sourcing Ingredients

To source ingredients for a grazing table, I look to my local culinary artisans and a few online, high-quality purveyors. The following is a list of online purveyors I use to source quality, sustainable ingredients.

Marx Foods

Di Bruno Bros

D’Artagnan

Wulf’s Fish

Pipers Farm

igourmet

Salumeria Biellese

La Quercia Cured Meat

Now that you’ve thoroughly read this blueprint on the anatomy of a grazing table, you’re well on your way to becoming a grazing table Superstar!

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