With holiday parties on your horizon, you’re sure to encounter some mischievous party food. Whether it’s an afterthought or a “work of art,” fruit and cheese displays can attract a lot of attention…and not in a good way. Read on as we highlight a few Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophes we found, and what you can do to avoid mischief and create your own beautiful arrangement…
Josh: This is why you don’t ask the Accounting Department to arrange food.
Matthew: People with OCD should be medicated.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: Linear arrangements may be all the rage on cruise ships, but save this style for the seven seas. Food arranged in this method may look good for a second, but as soon as your guests start digging in, your well-intentioned lines will turn into a chaotic fruit basket turnover.
Josh: (in the style of the Evening News) “What started as a festive party turned into a night of terror when a presumed “fruit and cheese tray” revealed its true nature as a mutant alien creature-beast and began devouring guests face-first at a local Christmas Party…”
Matthew: I like the fact that the creator placed the tooth picks in advance. Like we would never know what to do those.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: The lovely eviscerated pineapple effect serves to draw your attention to a focal point: the bowl of toothpicks. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Plus, the pre-set toothpicks make it look like the creator dissected the pineapple and is preparing to label its internal organs. Or like the pineapple is getting acupuncture. We could go on for DAYS about this mess.
Josh: I can’t figure out if I’m at a Christmas Party or a Cheese protest!
Matthew: I think they should have used “Hello My Name is…” nametags.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: Letting folks know what they’re eating can be good thing, but this is overkill. It’s too much…TOO MUCH. Serve fewer cheeses. And don’t do any decorative carving of limes and lemons. I can’t explain why it’s wrong exactly, I just feel the wrongness in my soul.
Josh: Is it just me, or is that blasphemous fruit mountain staring at me?
Matthew: Looks like Carmen Miranda gave up her famous fruit hat and started wearing a fruit burkha.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: The word “ostentatious” should be applied to ball gowns and Lady GaGa performances, not to your fruit and cheese displays. Keep it simple, and under 8 feet tall.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: While the cube is a perfectly acceptable cut for cheese displays, it should be one of several shapes on display, not the ONLY one. Mixing it up with wedges, slices, and cubes gives your eyes a break. PS: Notice that our friend the “Toothpick Centerpiece” is back!
Josh: Perhaps the “sawblade” presentation was a hit at the Carpenter’s Association Holiday Hoedown, but this is ridiculous!
Matthew: Looks like the cheese slices are performing a synchronized swimming routine.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: First, it looks like it hurts. Second, don’t use deli-sliced cheese for a display. It’s too flat. You need a little height. And no, holding up three wedges vertically in the center with strawberries does not qualify as “height.”
Josh: Words cannot describe this monstrosity. And why is that turkey licking himself?
Matthew: All the chefs who spent years in culinary school carving editable art just cringed. Why is that turkey licking itself? This is just wrong.
Why this is a Fruit-N-Cheese-tastrophe: Granted, this was created by a mom for her son’s kindergarten class. And that’s where it should stay. Using fruit and cheese to build an edible beast is great for kids, but not for grown-ups. Seriously…the turkey is licking himself!!!
Building A Proper Display: Matthew Tells All
Now that we’ve been merciless bitches about other folks’ cheese trays, Matthew has some really good tips to help you build a beautiful display and avoid embarrassment this holiday season. Take a look at the following photos of his displays, and read on for tips on how to build them yourself.
Set the Stage for Greatness
Tip 1: Use a cheese board, wooden cutting board (like above) or platter. In both arrangements above, I combined two or three of the same style cutting boards.
Tip 2: Choose a serving surface that’s a little smaller than you think you need. You can mound fruit and cheese to give the illusion that there’s a lot. A big board allows for too much dead space.
Tip 3: Place something under the cheese to allow it to stand out. I used hydrangea leaves and cast iron plant leaves. Just make sure that your foliage is not poisonous, or poison ivy. Major party foul. You can also use a colored tea towel.
The Cheese Factor
Tip 1: The rule of thumb is to serve a soft cheese (Brie, goat cheese, smoked gouda), hard cheese (Parmesan, asiago, etc.) and a blue cheese (Stilton, gorgonzola, etc).
Tip 2: Don’t buy pre-cubed cheese. I know it is tempting and easy but it’s dry and sad.
Tip 3: Buy real cheese. Velveeta or a block of cream cheese slathered in something should not be on your tray. It’s just a huge mess waiting to happen.
The Supporting Characters
Tip 1: Buy fruit that’s in season. Strawberries in winter have no taste, so think apples, pears, citrus. Just remember to place apples and pears in a lemon juice and water bath before serving. Keeps them from turning brown. Grapes are always good—they create height and volume. Any they’re always in season somewhere.
Tip 2: Get creative with crudités. Veggies don’t always have to be cut into spears. Try pickled veggies, like okra, green beans, or cornichons (lil pickles).
Tip 3: Appease the carnivores. Serving cured meats like salami and prosciutto adds another level of color and texture. Just be sure to buy meats that can be served at room temperature. Sandwich meat is NOT a cured meat. And while using it on your platter may or may not be a health hazard, it’s definitely a style hazard. Rolled up, fanned out—whatever—keep Oscar Meyer off your tray.
Making the Magic
Step 1: Place your boards on your serving surface. If it’s a slippery surface and the boards slide, invest in some of the foam-treated shelf liner, it will stop the slipping.
Step 2: Arrange your foliage, tea towels or (God forbid) doilies on the boards.
Step 3: Place the mound of grapes first—preferably in the middle towards the back of the boards.
Step 4: Spread the types of cheese out, keeping the like-colored cheeses separate. They don’t have to be in layers—you’re going for rustic, not fussy.
Step 5: Place other fruits or veggies in mounds between the cheeses. If you choose to use veggie spears – you can stand those up in a cool tumbler or wine glass to add height. As you place, remember to leave room for meats and crackers.
Step 6: Mound the meats if they are sausages. You may need to layer sliced meats, but symmetry is not necessary
Step 7: Fill any “dead” space and fill with crackers or additional cheese.
We hope these tips help you to create beautiful displays this holiday season. And remember: A bowl of toothpicks does not qualify as a centerpiece! ;)