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Charcuterie boards get big by going small

Charcuterie boards get big by going small

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ST. LOUIS — When indoor dining closed last spring, Emily Owen of south St. Louis became fixated on one thing.

She wanted a bounty of salami roses, honeypots and buttery wedges of Brie. She wanted a charcuterie board.

“I had a craving for something I couldn’t have,” she said.

Owen appeased her desire with a carefully curated platter from St. Louis’ Lorraine Gourmet Grazing Boards, repeating the order every couple months.

Trays of cured meats and cheeses crowded with fancy accoutrements were popular before the pandemic. But they’ve mushroomed into a packaged industry since March and expanded beyond their core definition to include vegetarian options, dessert plates and even doggie treats. The grazing boards check all the boxes of modern food preferences: customizable, high-end, locally sourced and photogenic.

With parties sidelined, large trays have fallen out of favor. But the appetite for sampling — a little salty, a little sweet, something juicy, something crunchy — has expanded, prompting big orders for small boards. Entrepreneurial snack-crafters have launched social media pages, perfected pandemic-friendly “jarcuterie” cups and scooped up clients longing for restaurant-quality decadence at home.

Volpi Foods, the 119-year-old institution on the Hill, launched a line of single-serve portions of dry-cured meats in September. Small Bites are packaged in 1.5-ounce containers to encourage experimentation with coppa and sopressata, said marketing manager Deanna Depke. Initial orders were five times what the company had expected.

This winter, Volpi has hosted livestream charcuterie classes, demonstrating how to roll pillars of prosciutto, crosshatch stacks of crackers and coax the arils from a pomegranate. Next up is a Super Bowl-themed tutorial.

“Our goal is to make it more accessible and approachable,” Depke said. “The good thing about charcuterie is it flexes to a lot of eating occasions.”

When most occasions downsized last year, grazing boards diversified. Charcu in the Lou founders Cori Bickford and Caitlin Browne sell as many sweet boards as savory ones, loading them with candy, chocolate and cookies from local bakeries. Their $90 Hot Cocoa Board earned a mention in Real Homes Magazine last month.

Even dog charcuterie, with bacon and biscuits, has been a big seller: They assembled 400 Bow Wow Boxes in December.

Bickford and Browne, friends from Ballwin, started making boards last summer, to enjoy during their “patio wine nights.” The hobby turned into an official side business in November.

“We jumped in and got way more orders than we thought we would,” said Browne. “We learned that hashtags get the word out there.”

One customer found them from across the Atlantic Ocean. An order from County Mayo, Ireland, was delivered last month to County Clare-native Eimear Arkins in Tower Grove South.

It was the first holiday that Arkins would not be spending with family. A friend set up the surprise of chocolate-covered caramels, peppermint bark, grapes, salamis and fig jam.

“I was disappointed not to be home for Christmas,” said Arkins. “But I felt the love just the same.”

Allison Schilling’s signature party contribution — “back when we used to do parties” — was always an overflowing cheese board. She found prepping the ritzy hors d’oeuvres to be therapeutic.

Schilling, of Des Peres, had no intention of turning it into a business. Then, in June, a wine distributor in Tennessee happened on her Instagram page.

“A friend told a friend,” said Schilling. “Then word got around.”

Schilling formalized a menu, from $15 Littles to $120 Larges, and incorporated St. Louis Cheese Boards in August. A couple orders a week turned into hundreds by the holidays.

“Everyone’s about the ‘easy button,’” said Schilling.

Erika Schenk, a vice president at World Wide Technology in Maryland Heights, was looking for a convenient way to “class up” a planning meeting that, during normal times, would be capped off with a sit-down dinner.

She had Schilling’s individual-size boards, pocked with glazed almonds and pumpkin seeds, delivered to each participant beforehand. For the next meeting, in December, “it was just rinse and repeat,” Schenk said.

Liz Ryan named Lorraine Gourmet Grazing Boards for the Wisconsin cheese brand that she enjoyed, slathered with mustard, as a kid. Ryan, who lives in Tower Grove East, works at the Social Affair, a boutique catering company in the Grove neighborhood.

The charcuterie boards she created for the Social Affair’s weddings and galas were the spark for Lorraine, which opened in September 2019. That Christmas, Ryan mostly sold her $160 party-sized platters, enough to feed a couple dozen people.

Now, solo snacks or date-night appetizers are the go-to, but Ryan’s design philosophy hasn’t changed.

“I try to think about how to make the perfect bite,” she said, whether that’s skewering fruit for an COVID-friendly cup, or adding pecans and scallions to Gouda for a box built for two.

Kristen Carroll, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood, likes to order Lorraine minis as dinner for nights in with her boyfriend. They curl up with a movie and thumb through the crackers, olives, sausage and Gruyere.

“We make super-adult, high-end Lunchables,” Carroll said.

Ryan isn’t sure whether, post-pandemic, clients will stick with small plates or return to elaborate, overflowing tables. But regardless of form, grazing boards aren’t going away, she said.

“This style of eating has been around forever,” Ryan said. “People like to eat a small amount of a lot of different things.”

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