Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/3/2021 (195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Remember how your parents used to scold you at mealtime, telling you over and over again not to play with your food?
Well, at the beginning of February, San Francisco-based Columbus Craft Meats shared tips on Instagram how to create a charcuterie chalet using their products: Italian sausage as roofing shingles, walls fashioned out of prosciutto, a honey ham doorway, cheese window frames... you get the idea. A company spokesperson said the appetizing abode was in direct response to a just-released report that listed "creative charcuterie" among 2021’s top food trends, labelling it as perfect for small, household gatherings in a pandemic-ridden world.
A bit closer to home, Cassandra Carreiro, founder of Sharecuterie, a seven-month old gourmet charcuterie delivery service, shakes her head when asked if she’s always had an artistic side, given the eye-catching manner in which she folds provolone to look like a rose, and arranges blackberries, dried apricots and olives to mimic a painter’s palette.
"No, not at all. Back when I was preparing (charcuterie) boards for myself, I would just slap everything down, not really caring what it looked like," she says with a chuckle. "But after I started researching this as a potential business, I quickly realized making everything look attractive is something tons of people are really into now; that they enjoy posting pictures of their loaded boards on social media. I figured I’d better learn how to make salami look like a flower, or else."
Carreiro, who grew up in the North End, was on a trip to Miami seven years ago when she ordered a charcuterie-board-as-appetizer for the first time. She recalls going on and on about how creative — not to mention tasty — it was. When she returned home, she began scanning the menu everywhere she went, pretty much, to see if charcuterie was an option.
Inspired by boards she sampled at various restaurants around the city, particularly one she and her husband ordered at Sous Sol in Osborne Village, she began preparing charcuterie boards at home as an end-of-the-week treat for the two of them, or whenever they had people over. Because she typically made a point of running all over town to find just the right cheeses, cured meats or box of crackers, it wasn’t long before guests were telling her between bites, "Cassandra, everything is so yummy. You should seriously start your own business."
Carreiro, a registered psychiatric nurse, had never thought of herself as an entrepreneur. Nonetheless, she went online last summer to investigate whether a charcuterie delivery service was "even a thing." It turned out it was; only she was underwhelmed by what she was spotting: assortment after assortment of what seemed like items plucked from the nearest supermarket, arranged haphazardly on a serving tray.
Knowing Winnipeg had so much more to offer when it comes to independently owned-and-operated food enterprises, she started Sharecuterie in September with the goal of adorning her boards with locally made products as much as possible, items such as Bothwell cheese, Calabria Market meats, Utoffeea toffee and Faith Apiaries honey.
It didn’t take long for orders to come pouring in. By Thanksgiving she was spending three nights a week shopping for, preparing and personally delivering charcuterie boards. By Christmas she was going every day of the week, almost, around her full-time job. And last month, in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, she barely had a second to breathe, she was so run off her feet.
"It’s definitely been a bit busier than I anticipated but hey, that’s a good problem to have," she says, noting because she’s celiac, she happily prepares charcuterie boards with customers’ allergies and/or preferences in mind, providing they inform her ahead of time through her website, sharecuteriewpg.ca, what they can and can’t eat. Board options include gluten-free, vegan, pork-free and lactose-free.
Thus far, she’s dropped off boards sized for as many as eight members of the same family, and as few as one. How great is this? For single orders, she occasionally places the offerings in an oversized martini glass, too pretty to dive into, almost. She laughs again when asked if, when she’s filling an order for a couple, she ensures there’s an even number of everything so that arguments don’t ensue over who gets the last yogurt-covered pretzel or spoonful of mango-habanero jelly.
"I haven’t been counting, I usually just go with the flow, but yeah, that might actually be a good habit to get into," she says.
Also, as a strong advocate for BIPOC-run businesses, Carreiro, who is Indigenous, makes a concerted effort to include certain foodstuffs or flavours on her boards, in a nod to her culture. That’s why they occasionally include bannock balls, which, in her opinion, pair perfectly with a slice of sundried-tomato-and-basil havarti.
"I’m always keeping my eyes open in terms of more traditional stuff and that’s definitely an aim of mine in the future, to build on that sort of thing," she says. "My mother in-law actually makes the bannock for me. I’m trying to convince her to start her own business, too, as it’s been very popular."
Carreiro’s gourmet groupings typically arrive on a compostable serving platter. That said, customers sometimes prefer to transfer the lot onto a board of their own choosing. That’s where T.J. Skrabek, owner of Wood & Grain WPG, a home-based biz that turns out one-of-a-kind, wooden charcuterie boards, comes in. Since starting his company 20 months ago, Skrabek has shipped his hand-carved boards to customers in every province and territory in Canada, and to a number of parties south of the border, as well.
Skrabek, 32, began working in the hospitality industry when he was 15. He grew up surrounded by carpenters and contractors and always told himself if things didn’t work out in his chosen field, he’d strap on a tool belt and follow in his relatives’ footsteps.
He did just that three years ago when he left a restaurant general manager’s job to build fences and decks. He eventually moved on from that job — he currently works full-time as a finishing woodworker, responsible for fashioning "really cool parts" for stairs and mantles — but in his spare time, he began constructing butcher blocks and charcuterie boards, at first for the kitchen he shares with his girlfriend, later for family members who saw that one and asked for their own.
In the spring of 2019 he made a charcuterie board for a friend’s brother, who wouldn’t take no for an answer when he told Skrabek he wanted to pay him for his time and effort. Buoyed by that exchange, he successfully applied to show off his wares at a pop-up night market held at the outlet mall on Sterling Lyon Parkway in June 2019. He barely had time to prop up his sign before he recorded a sale.
"In the very first minute, this guy walked up with his wife and bought two $90 boards. I was like, whoa, that’s pretty sweet," he recalls.
A couple of factors set Skrabek’s creations, which are available for purchase at The Happy Cooker (464 Stradbrook St.) and D.A. Niels Gourmet Kitchenware (485 Berry St.), as well as through his Facebook page, apart from the competition. First is the expansive variety of wood he employs, as many as 60 different species, to date.
Walnut boards are popular, as are ones done with Manitoba maple, but he also searches high and low for olive woods from Europe, and hardwoods from South America. Second are the unique, leather-wrapped handles he painstakingly carves after sketching everything out by hand on the wood’s surface. One he’s dubbed "el diablo," made with a fire-red wood called Brazilian padauk and fashioned to look like a demon’s tail, has been a top seller, as has one remindful of an oak leaf. Not that he’s necessarily looking forward to making the second one again, any time soon.
“In the very first minute, this guy walked up with his wife and bought two $90 boards. I was like, whoa, that’s pretty sweet.” – T.J. Skrabek
"I think it took me three hours to hand-sand all the little grooves. At the end I was like, ‘OK, I did it and I’m never going to do it again,’" he says with a chuckle, mentioning if it was up to his girlfriend, they would keep every third board he turns out, she enjoys admiring them so much. (She’s not the only one; Skrabek has heard from people who are in no hurry to use one of his boards for its intended purpose; rather they hang it on the wall of their kitchen or lean it against a backsplash, treating it like a piece of folk art.)
And while demand for charcuterie boards probably won’t die down any time soon — according to food data service Tastewise.com, Google searches for "charcuterie board" have tripled since the onset of COVID-19 — Skrabek has already added another trendy accoutrement to his arsenal.
"I used to play chess competitively when I was a kid, and after watching (Netflix series) The Queen’s Gambit I thought, not only should I get back into the game, I should make myself a nice, wooden chessboard while I was at it. I ended up building a few and after posting pictures of them on my Instagram page, they were all gone within five minutes."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.