A cold cut platter is a simple, crowd-pleasing spread to have at any party. The key to putting together an amazing one is balance. A variety of cold cuts and types of pickles and palate cleansers should all complement one another.
Choose two varieties each of pork, beef and poultry, or four varieties each of beef and pork, and have an equal amount of each. For example, you could use pastrami and corned beef, prosciutto and capicola, and turkey and chicken.
Buy four or five ounces of cold cuts for each guest—if you're buying beef, pork and poultry to feed 10 guests, you need 40 to 50 ounces total, or six to eight ounces of each type of cold cut.
Pickles and Relishes
Fatty foods need an acidic accompaniment to round out their richness. (That's why a classic Italian hoagie gets topped with pickled peppers.) Cold cut platters should have at least one or two pickled ingredients.
- Pickled peppers provide heat and acid, which works well for high-fat cold cuts like mortadella, and soppressata.
- Cornichons or gherkins have just enough acidity to contrast the richness of moderate-fat cuts like regular ham, salami and corned beef.
- Sauerkraut also works in a cold cut platter, particularly when serving corned beef or pastrami.
Other options include mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms and brined Kalamata olives.
Keep this guideline in mind: The fattier the cold cut, the more piquant the pickle should be.
Select at least one type of cheese for each type of meat. For example, if your platter consists of serrano ham, Genoa salami, roast beef and corned beef, you might use Spanish manchego and Swiss Gruyère for some harmonious pairings. You could also choose a different cheese for each variety of cold cut. Here are a few simple options for a well-rounded platter:
- Mozzarella tempers the spiciness of salamino piccante.
- Sharp cheddar contrasts the heartiness of roast beef.
- Provolone balances salami with a soft sweetness.
Plan for three to four ounces of each type of cheese for each person.
Palate cleansers reset the taste buds and prime them for another round of flavor. You need something fresh, crisp and cold in between different varieties of cured or smoked meats to prevent muddling one flavor with the next. Raw vegetables are the trick. A mix of greens and thinly sliced veggies add the contrast needed to brighten up a smoky, salty cold cut platter. Wanna go a little fancier? Try a fresh apple and fennel salad, a vinegary coleslaw or a light Thai salad.
Arranging the Platter
Group each variety of cold cut, each variety of cheese and each variety of pickle together. Place the meat equally spaced from one another around the tray, and place a variety of cheese in between each variety of meat. The palate cleansers and pickles should be in the center. For visual contrast, line the edges of the tray with greens, like alternating leaves of Russian red kale and common kale or simple Bibb lettuce.
At the deli, ask the butcher to slice all the cold cuts and cheeses about the thickness of a credit card to get the most bang for your buck.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.