It has happened hundreds if not thousands of times across the country in the past few years. Someone on Instagram — typically a millennial — posts an artful and appetizing arrangement of meats, cheeses and accompaniments. After a slew of likes, putting together the plates and sharing the results on social media becomes a fun hobby — until one Instagram follower asks, “Can I buy one of those?”
So what starts as a hobby soon becomes a business. In Guilford County, a handful of these businesses have sprouted up in the past year.
The recent charcuterie trend goes back about five years with the hashtag #cheeseplate on Instagram.
Of course, cheese plates and charcuterie have been around for centuries. Just ask the Italians, who love their antipasto, or the French, who often finish a meal with a cheese plate instead of dessert.
Charcuterie historically refers to cured meats and similar preparations and the shops that sell them, such as delicatessens. Charcuterie boards, though, have long referred to a kind of antipasto platter of cured meats paired with complementary items such as cheese, olives, fruits and nuts.
The recent trend has expanded the idea of cheese plates and charcuterie boards to include candy, desserts, brunch fare and more. In fact, many people now prefer the more-inclusive term “grazing boards” to reflect the wide variety of foods used for them.
The term “board” refers to cutting boards, the traditional platform for meat and cheese plates, but these takeout products are typically delivered in disposable boxes for practical reasons.
Most people who turn this into a business shop at a regular supermarket or maybe Trader Joe’s for ingredients, then assemble them in their own homes.
Pharm Girls Grazing Co.
Sara Wilson, 39, and her friend Greta Garland, 40 — pharmacists who formed a lasting friendship years ago in pharmacy school — started Pharm Girls Grazing Co. last October. “We did it for fun, and one thing led to another one day when we started talking about something we could do on the side,” Wilson said. “We saw some other businesses were doing it, and we love meat and cheese so much.”
Garland lives in Georgia, so she’s in charge of marketing and other remote chores, while Wilson, who lives in Greensboro, actually makes the boards.
As with most of these businesses, customers can find Pharm Girls on Facebook or Instagram and usually order through the apps’ messaging system. Payment is often through PayPal, Venmo or Cash App — but also sometimes by cash, check or credit.
“I like this because it’s something that I can do on my own time, around kids and work,” Wilson said.
Gate City Charcuterie
Kate Carpenter and her husband, Clayton, were thinking of starting Gate City Charcuterie as long ago as December 2019 after hearing about a charcuterie business in Raleigh, but they put it off when Kate got pregnant with their second child, now 6 months old. They finally opened last October, serving the Greensboro area.
“We took $125, went to the grocery store, made some samples and started an Instagram account, and it really took off from there,” Carpenter said.
Like Wilson and Garland, the Carpenters do this on the side. Kate Carpenter, 26, juggles the charcuterie business with her full-time human-resources consulting job and parenting duties.
“I picked up baking as a hobby in college, and I’m passionate about food,” Carpenter said. “I’ve learned how it brings people together and how it makes people happy.”
Gate City offers a wide variety of boxes, but as with most of these companies, the “date night” box for two tends to be the most popular. Gate City’s $40 box for two includes at least three cheeses, a few cured meats, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, crackers and something sweet — often chocolate.
“That box is pretty substantial,” Carpenter said. “It could be lunch for two, or heavy appetizers for dinner.”
Luiza Holland, 28, works in international sales in High Point for the furniture industry. She once traveled a lot for work, but the pandemic pretty much put an end to that. So she turned her longing for travel and foods of the world into Wanderlust Boards, which she started last August.
“I’ve always had a passion for food and food presentation, and also a passion for travel and trying different things,” she said.
“My goal for the business was to be more than charcuterie. My idea was to expose people to different flavors and foods from around the world.”
In addition to delivery or pickups at central locations — as most charcuterie business do — Holland also gives workshops and has done pop-up sales at coffee shops, wineries and other businesses.
Wanderlust’s prices start at $45 for a date-night charcuterie board for two, and go up to $115 for a charcuterie board for 10 to 12 people. “I also do a lot of specialty orders and custom orders,” she said. This month, she designed special boxes for the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day.
Like most of these businesses, Wanderlust’s menu includes boards that go beyond the traditional meat and cheese plates. Holland offers a dessert board, brunch board, even a fondue board with marshmallows, pound cake, fruit and a glass container of pre-made fondue that can be heated in the microwave at home. Holland said she has found a good market for boards among college students — or parents who want to send their college-student kids care packages.
Guilford’s newest board business is a family affair. Suzanne Pace, a full-time mother of six, started Crafted Charcuterie as a sort of fun entrepreneurial lesson for her two teenage girls: Bethany, 15, and Daisy, 14.
“We’re always looking for things to do, and the girls have been in a young-entrepreneurs group before where they learned marketing, how to price your products, things like that,” Suzanne Pace said.
The impetus for Crafted Charcuterie came after the Paces tried to order a board for the running coach of one of Pace’s children. “This person was a vegan, and we couldn’t find a vegan board. So we decided to make one. Afterward, the girls decided to make it into a business venture.”
She said that she and each of her daughters pitched in $50 startup money and opened for business Jan. 20. They received about 20 orders in the first two weeks.
Crafted makes regular charcuterie boards like other companies. But it also will do vegan boards. “And it’s not a vegetable tray,” Pace said. “We have vegan meats, vegan cheeses and vegan baked goods and dairy-free chocolate.”
The pandemic may be pushing this trend to new heights, as people look for new sources of income as well as something to do when they can’t go out and socialize like they used to do.
Charcuterie and other grazing boards are a way for people to show their flair for design and artful presentation and feed people without having to cook anything.
In short, they have become an outlet for creativity for many people — as well as a quick way to start a business with little capital.
Contact Michael Hastings at 336-727-7394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.