If your life is anything like mine, then you likely have a lot of holiday gatherings throughout November and December. Most of these ask you to bring some finger foods and a meat and cheese tray seems like a smart choice at times. It doesn’t require any cooking on your part. However, those meat and cheese trays you buy are the grocery store on the plastic trays are puny and expensive.
The solution? Create your own meat and cheese trays for the holidays. Trust me, this will take you about ten minutes and you’ll save at least 50%.
Steps to Make a Holiday Meat and Cheese Tray
When I say “meat and cheese,” I don’t mean the lunch meat for sandwiches. I am talking about hors d’oeuvres. This is a dish that will be well received almost anywhere, so is a good choice to take for pitch ins.
Step # 1: An Amazing Tray
Your first step to creating a beautiful meat and cheese tray is to find an amazing tray. You have a few options with this and it might play into your overall pitch-in personality.
- Buy a truly beautiful vintage tray at a yard sale or use one that has been handed down through the generations. The concern here is that you might go off and leave it, but if you are attending a family function it is probably fine. You can always get it back.
- Buy a simple but lasting tray from an inexpensive store, such as Old Time Pottery for about $10-$20. You’ll use this tray again and again, but again you have to worry that you might leave it behind.
- Use a cutting board you have on hand. The age doesn’t matter. The more beat up, the more character.
- Go to the dollar store and buy a holiday themed plastic tray. The benefit of this is that you can leave it behind and you’ll only be out $1. This is usually my choice. If I can remember to take it with me, I do. But, if I want to leave early and people are still milling around, or if I forget it, it is not a huge deal either.
Step # 2: Buy the Meats and Cheeses
Even though you might be tempted to go to the deli area of your grocery and buy some really unique cheeses to add to your tray, this will run the cost of your tray up. Think about what is typically on a tray you buy:
- Two types of basic cheese cubes (let’s say cheddar and pepper jack)
- Summer Sausage
To make this even less expensive, I do a couple of things. Cheese and processed meats both keep for a long time. I watch for sales. For example, I recently got blocks of cheese for $2.00 each, little beef sausage links for $4.99 for a package (I’ll use it twice for this) and pepperoni’s for $1.99. I did pay full price for some Ritz crackers, because I didn’t plan ahead on those, but you can catch these on sale or use a different type of cracker.
Step # 3: Prepping the Cheese
Since you’ll be buying blocks to save money, you’ll need to cut the cheese. One key to making this dish stretch is to not cut hunks of cheese. Instead, cut into small cubes. You may even be able to use the cheese more than once as I did and stretch your money further. If you have leftovers, you family can always eat the cheese as snacks.
Step # 4: Place on Tray in Zones
Someone I know told me they like to buy the trays at the store because the meat and cheese is “arranged so nicely.” I hope all of my very frugal readers are aware that no one really cares all that much. As soon as the first couple of people take pieces off of that tray, it is no longer neat anyway.
However, you can certainly arrange your tray nicely. Figure out zones for cheese, meat, and crackers. What I do is I first outline the zones. So, if I want say cheddar cheese in one zone, I outline the shape I want with cubes. Then, I fill it in. And so on.
I think it looks nice enough. People eat it, so that’s the main thing. If you want to get really fancy, you can buy some gorgeous toothpicks with red and green decorations and stick them into the cheese cubes. That can add a lot of interest for not a lot more money (especially if you buy them on clearance at the end of the season and save them for the next year).
BTW, please don’t place the crackers on the tray until you get there. They will get soggy. What I like to do is grab a couple of sleeves of Ritz and put them on the tray without opening them. Then, when I get there, I just open and spread onto the tray.
My estimate on the cost of this frugal pitch-in dish is $8.50 (plus $1 if you leave a throwaway tray behind). The last time I checked, a small tray like this at the store was $14.99 and my tray was much larger.