Charcuterie-board businesses carve out niche during pandemic

Allison Ward
ThisWeek group
After being laid off during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Lauren Simon went to visit friends and created a charcuterie board for them. A few days later, somebody asked her make another one, so she started a business, the CharcuteQueen.

The elaborate charcuterie board Lauren Simon brought to a small gathering this summer turned out to be the hit of the party.

So much so that friends suggested the Westerville resident, who was laid off in the spring, sell similar boards to others.

“At first I thought, ‘No way, people won’t pay me to make a cheese board,' ” said Simon, 33, but her friends persisted.

Turns out they were right.

Less than two months into starting her company, the CharcuteQueen, business is booming. She sold 15 boards during a recent week and 12 the week before. She had to invest in a restaurant-style refrigerator to hold all her ingredients while holiday orders are flowing in.

“I think other people are just as visual as I am, and if something is pretty, it makes you want to eat it more,” Simon said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, people have been looking for anything – especially something that can be ordered online and delivered – that is beautiful or unique that can help take their minds off these difficult months and give them something to look forward to.

A charcuterie board seems to fit the bill.

After being laid off during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Lauren Simon started a charcuterie-board business called CharcuteQueen.

The CharcuteQueen is one of several charcuterie-board businesses that have popped up since the spring, and other established companies have added the style of cuisine to their menus.

“It’s a pandemic option to still have a fancy date night,” said Kathy DeFrancisco, who launched Sharecuterie Grazing Boxes & Boards in March.

What began as simply an effort to make a little extra money to help pay for their children’s college has become nearly a full-time effort for the DeFranciscos.

“We’re taking daily orders,” said DeFrancisco, who runs the business out of her Powell home with husband, Nick. “We can pay all our household bills out of the company – that and then some.”

Beyond couples wanting to jazz up their stay-at-home evenings, DeFrancisco said, she is selling to people wanting to send a thoughtful gift or those hosting small get-togethers. She’s even the “food-truck option” at breweries certain nights of the week.

As varied as charcuterie board customers are these days, so are the items put on the boards.

Though charcuterie generally refers to a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meats and comes from a French word meaning “cooked flesh,” people are making breakfast charcuterie boards that include fruit, eggs, bacon and pancakes or fall-themed ones that incorporate candy corn, nuts and pumpkin donuts to savor after seasonal meats and cheeses.

They can even be vegan-friendly or appeal to the sweeter side and contain no meat or cheese at all.

“For my friend’s baby shower, I was making a meat-and-cheese board and I thought, ‘Why not do a dessert one?’” said Simon, who has also done a 90s-themed board and one with s’more fixings. “Why not expand past what the traditional word means, what a traditional board looks like? The sky is the limit.”

However, her meat and cheese boards, albeit with a ton of extras, remain the favorite.  

Though the pandemic proved to be an ideal time for charcuterie boards to rise in stock, they’ve actually been gaining popularity the past few years, said Duncan Forbes, who runs North Country Charcuterie in northwest Columbus with his mother and older brother.

More restaurants have them on their menus, he said, and social media has been full of posts from people, celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Chrissy Teigen included, showing off their boards.

North Country, which began in 2014, produces specialty cured meats (actual charcuterie), but has gotten into creating boards, now, too.

In 2017 and 2018, North Country held classes, which always sold out, on how to pair meats and cheeses and build a beautiful board. During the holidays last year, the business began selling charcuterie kits that, after a bit of slicing, allow people to put together small boards themselves. 

Those kits have “sold like crazy” during the pandemic, Forbes said.

“I think people like the community aspect of it,” Forbes said. “It’s one platter everyone can hover around ... and share in that food experience.” 

Plus, he said, the boards can serve as a creative outlet. 

“It’s not just salami,” he said. “You can have pickled vegetables or plain vegetables, multiple types of cheeses. If you’re having a party, it becomes appealing to everyone. The more items on a charcuterie board, the more it appeals to more people.” 

Charcuterie boards always have been popular in Kristin Murphy’s house, but the nurse and mother of three began experimenting more with them during the pandemic.

“We used to go every Friday night to the wine tasting at Whole Foods for $5,” said Murphy, of pre-coronavirus date nights with husband Patrick. “This replaced our wine tastings.

“It makes you feel a little bougie.” 

When it came time to meal plan for a summer vacation in Tennessee, she and pal Carla Auber decided to replace one meal with an 8-foot, table-length charcuterie spread.  

“And all the leftovers tasted great in Bloody Marys the next day,” Murphy, a Powell resident, said with a laugh.  

Though her and Auber’s boards began as a fun and delicious way to pass time while staying home more, they’ve since started selling them through an Instagram account called Grayt Charcuterie.

“They’re just fun when you get together with family and friends,” Murphy said. “You can sip on a glass of wine after all the hustle and bustle of the week ... and enjoy each other.

“With COVID, there’s not much we can do that’s relaxing and this makes us all happy.”

award@dispatch.com

@AllisonAWard