The picnic has long been one of the favourite dining forms of the upper classes. Members of London’s 19th century Picnic Society were each required to contribute one dish, decided by ballot, and six bottles of wine.
Though today’s picnics are a little less hedonistic, there will still be an overwhelming sense of celebration on Britain’s parks and commons this spring – as outdoor lunches will be one of the first meals friends and family from different households will be able to share with one another. In Scotland and Wales four people from two different households can now meet outside and from March 29 up to six people in England will be able to do the same.
Channel the spirit of high-class lunchers of years gone by and lay out a spread to wow your friends with these posh picnic essentials.
A premium picnic needs pizazz – so don’t just chuck everything onto the blanket at once. Create a little theatre (and mystery) by introducing different courses individually, starting off with velvety bubbles of caviar and tangy cod’s roe smeared on fluffy blini.
Petrossian’s Ossetra Tsar Imperial, made with sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, finds the ideal balance between sweetness and brine. The cod roe in its tamara paste has been smoked in beechwood, which calms the fishy flavours.
For less adventurous diners, offer up thick slices of its salmon – which has been smoked via a technique the Petrossian family has been using for almost 100 years.
Serving caviar at the right temperature is vital (ideally between 8 and 9°C, according to the firm’s experts). So use plenty of ice packs to keep your wooden or glass – caviar is never served in metal – bowl cold.
A tin of caviar (from around £40), a jar of class tarama (£7.50), smoked salmon (from £23), blini, four grand blinis (£6) – all from Petrossian
The sandwich is the staple of any British picnic, so a good base is important. Sourdough is the flavour of the moment and a sturdy frame on which guests can build their creations. A razor-sharp bread knife here is a must.
Spruce things up with a range of fillings that would rival even the aisles of Fortnum & Mason. Centre stage should be a charcuterie board, such as the one from smokehouse London Smoke & Cure. Its meats, which can be delivered nationally, are sourced from free-range farms before being lightly cured in salt and herbs then air-dried for up to five months.
The koji-cultured bresaola is rich in umami flavours and best served with a smear of sweet chutney, such as Bonne Maman’s new Onion with Sichuan Pepper.
As for cheeses, show off your foodie credentials with a selection that no one else has heard of. Swap out your mature Cheddar, for a Beaufort D’Alpage from Champagne + Fromage, a London-based cheesemonger and wine merchant also doing national deliveries. Known as 'The Prince of Gruyère', this raw cow’s milk cheese has the flavour of caramelised nuts. For a creamy alternative to Camembert, try the firm’s Chebris, a cheese from the Midi-Pyrénées region of France that is a mixture of sheep and goat. Its slight acidity is well offset by a dollop of Bonne Maman’s Violet Fig with Shallot chutney.
For the boldest of palettes, suggest a sandwich of Champagne + Fromage’s Livarot, with its spicy-salty tones, combined with London Smoke & Cure’s moorish smoked ‘nduja.
Keep the cheese and meats in a cool bag, but make sure to take them out at least 15 minutes before serving, as the cold can mute their flavours.
Cheeses (from £4.80 Champagne + Fromage), charcuterie selection (£29.50 London Smoke & Cure), Bonne Maman chutneys (£2.60 from Waitrose).
The key to a truly posh picnic is taking much beloved staples, and giving them an up-market twist. The stalwart scotch egg, for example, can be made infinitely more classy by serving it with a truffle ketchup to dip into. We particularly like the one from online retailer The Truffle Guys.
Similarly sausage rolls can be tarted up with a sprinkling of their signature truffle dust or a drizzle of their sticky balsamic glaze, infused with white truffle.
Any party is sure to have some health-conscious guests, so offer as an alternative a spread of crudités, pickles and ferments. Tubs of Vadasz deli’s super-green kimchi and raw garlic-dill sauerkraut alongside bowls of grated carrot and sliced radish create an easy DIY salad bar.
Royal truffle ketchup (£11.95), truffle dust (£10.95), truffle balsamic glaze (£12.95) – all from The Truffle Guys
Vadasz ferments (£4.50 each) – available in Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, M&S and other supermarkets.
When going gourmet for dessert, smaller is always better (read: classier). Think delicate petit fours that can be gracefully consumed in one bite.
Jewel-like macarons in different shades can be arranged into a lovely centrepiece, as can coloured whips of meringue.
There are plenty to choose from in the supermarkets, but for an extra special touch plump for the pretty pastel macaron selection from West London bakery Jack & Beyond. It does UK-wide delivery of flavours including salted caramel and lemon & elderflower.
Alternatively it does bite-sized brownies, made from luxurious dark Callebaut chocolate, that take inspiration from classic desserts such as black forest gateau and red velvet cake.
Make sure to provide linen napkins on which guests can perch their sweets.
Selection of 12 macarons (£24), box of eight brownies (£28.80) – both from Jack & Beyond
There are few finer things than sipping a cool glass of champagne on a sunny day. But, despite their perfect pairing, sunshine is the ultimate anathema to cold wine.
Invest in a reliable cooler such as the CaddyO bottle chiller. Simply pop it into the freezer for at least four hours before using and the cooling gel inside will keep your wine at an optimum temperature.
As to the bubbly itself, Langham winery in Dorset has a vibrant sparkling rosé 2017 vintage. Its strawberries-and-cream and fresh apple notes will be sure to dispel any remaining lockdown blues.
For guests who aren’t sold on pink fizz, Champagne + Fromage’s Pertois Moriset Assemblage champagne has nutty and spicy undertones that will complement the cheese and charcuterie.
Rather than wasting the bubbles in cups, make sure to have a set of tulip-shaped glasses at the ready (plastic works too). As opposed to the traditional flute or coupe, they’re wide enough for the aromas to develop fully while still tall enough that the bubbles don’t escape too fast.
Langham rosé 2017 (£29.90 Langham winery), Pertois Moriset Cuvée ‘Assemblage’ Brut (£44 Champagne + Fromage)