BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
1) A delicatessen specializing in dressed meats and meat dishes, also: the products sold in such a shop (Miriam Webster)
2) The hottest food trend since sliced bread (Everyone)
It’s the perfect food for the age of Instagram, but the practice of serving cured meats and accoutrements on a flat dish is centuries old. Charcuterie originated in France from a time when every bit of fresh meat available was used to create salted, hard sausages or dry-aged meat products that did not require refrigeration.
While the word charcuterie refers specifically to preserved meats (think salami, prosciutto, soppressata), in the last few years it has come to define about any food presented on a board or platter that allows guests to serve themselves.
Charcuterie is a given at Cellar Wine Bistro because it goes so well with wine, says Michelle Wise, who co-owns the downtown Lafayette wine bar with her sister Marla Milner.
“People expect it at a wine bar and we’re the only one in town,” Wise says. “We sell a lot of charcuterie and cheese boards.”
The bistro gets most of its meat from the Indianapolis-based Smoking Goose meatery and serves charcuterie with such interesting ingredients as lamb and elk, along with more traditional pork. European cheeses are on the menu as well as local selections and some from around the Midwest. The cheese and meat boards include lots of extras such as crostini, dried fruit, marcona almonds and house-made spreads.
Few other local restaurants offer charcuterie, but you’ll find it on the menu at The Fowler House Kitchen, and Bistro 501 offers a cheese board that includes house-made crackers, pickles and fruit preserves.
For Hannah Esteban, owner of The Charcutie Girl, charcuterie is both passion and vocation. Esteban fell in love with the idea after visiting Italy in 2016 and began making boards at home for friends and family. After attending Bible college in Oklahoma, Esteban and her husband, Kelson, moved back to Indiana in 2018 and bought her grandparents’ farmhouse in White County.
On Valentine’s week, 2021, she decided to test the retail waters and posted a picture of one of her creations on social media, offering to do custom boards. She was surprised when 60 orders came in, and the online business took off.
“Pretty quickly I thought, ‘Man, if I’m going to do this I have to get permits and licensing and get my business set up through the state,’” Esteban says. “It was kind of overwhelming, and it’s all been a learning process.”
The orders kept flooding in, so she obtained state permits and insurance and earned certification through ServSafe, which teaches food safety and handling procedures. Esteban also found space at a commercial kitchen in Carroll County where she prepares and assembles charcuterie boards, boxes, mini-boxes and even individual cups for corporate events and parties. She also delivers the products she creates.
“It’s very labor intensive,” she says. “I wash every vegetable and piece of fruit, chop it all up, make salami roses, and assemble everything. It’s just a lot of prep work. We have something for everyone now and just put our own twist on it.”
That “something for everyone” statement is not really hyperbole. In January, she began providing snack boxes to the two locally owned Java Jo’z coffee shops, and they frequently sell out. She can prepare vegetarian boards, offers number-shaped boxes for special birthdays and anniversaries, prepares candy and sweet trays and her favorite — grazing tables.
Prepared for a minimum of 30 guests, the grazing tables feature a spectacular array of meat, cheese, bread, crackers, dips and spreads, honey and preserves, veggies, fruit, chocolate and other sweets. They are assembled on site and she sometimes hires a family member or friend to help with assembling such large orders, Esteban says.
Esteban also pairs up with other small businesses to offer classes on creating your own charcuterie boards. For a per-person price, she provides the food and a platter for each one attending, gives instructions, and sends a finished board home with each guest.
This busy entrepreneur is expanding her reach and has secured a lease for space in Market Square Shopping Center on Elmwood Avenue in Lafayette. She plans to open a store there in September that will feature a small café with retail space for gifts and a room for classes and private gatherings. In the meantime, her products can be ordered through her colorful website — thecharcutiegirl.com.
And it’s easier than ever to create your own charcuterie at home. Local stores, from Aldi to Fresh Thyme, offer pre-assembled packs of meat and cheese and a nice selection of salami, summer sausage, cheese, olives and other accompaniments.
If you’re looking for vegetarian or vegan options for a board, look no further than downtown Lafayette’s Rose Market. Owner Tracy Deno has stocked up on such specialty items as fig hard “salami” that is plant-based, gluten free and comes in four flavors. It looks like a cured meat, and has a spicy, fruity flavor that pairs well with cheese.
The store also offers products from Herbivores Butcher, which produces vegan “meat” and dairy-free cheese products. You’ll find shelves of vegan honey, nut butters, spreads, condiments, dipping sauces and pickled vegetables.
“We’ve gone in this direction for those people who are trying to eat differently,” Deno says. “We’re always looking for new products for vegans and vegetarians.”
Rose Market also offers a few charcuterie boards and accessories, so there’s no excuse to not get fancy with your party snacks. ★