More than just meats and cheeses arranged in a pleasing way, charcuterie boards have skyrocketed in popularity on social media in the last year. With the help of a few local businesses, High Country residents are surrounded by a bounty of local meats, cheeses and fruits to suit their tastes.

At their most basic, charcuterie boards may have any combination of meats, cheeses, fresh and/or dried fruits, crackers and breads, spreads, nuts, brined items like pickles or olives, and a little something sweet. All of this is usually spread out on a serving tray in a layout that’s both art and function, encouraging pairings for cheese and meats. Especially now, vegan and vegetarian boards are often available as well. However, pairing ingredients and laying them out is an art that can take practice.

Arden Harter, a Banner Elk native who owns local charcuterie company Boone Boards, said her first arrangement in 2015 was “ugly,” but served its purpose: providing a simple appetizer to let off some of the stress of making her family’s holiday meal. Her family loved it, and from there she enhanced her skills at curating boards, eventually selling them as people offered to purchase them. Boone Boards has been a recent venture, starting in 2021.

“It’s like a blank canvas, just to put stuff together and make edible art and have people enjoy it and see their reactions,” Arden says. “People are getting significant joy from putting (boards) together and looking at them.”

Charcuterie boards from Boone Boards start with a simple proposed menu, which Arden shows the client, and from there she’ll customize to their tastes. She said meats and cheeses tend to go together when they’re not fruity or too creamy, and spicier meats tend to go with heavier cheeses, similar to wine pairings.

“The cool thing is it’s all up to whoever’s making it to make it their own,” Arden says.

Arden crafts boards to match her client’s event theme or colors. She loves to use cranberries for Christmas and other seasonal accents when appropriate, including aromatics like rosemary, mint, sage and edible flowers from her own garden. She also sources locally when she can, including Willie Brooks Honey in Blowing Rock and Heritage Farms goat cheeses with larger boards.

Although she’s had no specific requests for vegan boards, Arden is tasting vegan cheeses to include on vegan and vegetarian boards based on her friends’ recommendations. On vegetarian boards, she includes more fresh vegetables and hummus than on boards with meat. When she adds nuts on a grazing board, she also makes sure to add the same ingredients that nuts are close to on a different side of the board so consumers with allergies don’t have to worry about cross-contamination with an ingredient they enjoy.

She suggests people new to charcuterie choose three good cheeses, local charcuterie meat if possible, a seasonal fruit, some kind of citrus food, a brined item, a dried item and a nice garnish.

“Use fine cheeses, no pepper jack or Swiss; it’s luxury and you should enjoy it,” Arden says. “Put it in front of you and say, ‘I can do this.’”

Find Boone Boards online at www.boone-boards.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

The High Country’s newest charcuterie business, High Country Boards, started selling boards in early 2021. Owners Mandy Cochran and Stacie Saunders threw parties and arranged food for a long time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As they started experimenting with charcuterie, people began to gather again with the easing of pandemic restrictions.

“If we had thought about it more, we might not have done it — making shareable food in a pandemic — but we jumped on a passion and ran with it,” Mandy says. “We started growing around when people started getting together more, having small gatherings, and a custom board makes it feel a little special.”

High Country Boards prides itself on incorporating cookie cutters to cut cheeses and meats, especially brie, into shapes; for example, they used anchor and sailboat cutters for a board a recent client ordered for a beach party. They start building charcuterie boards by outlining them based on the size of the order, arranging meats and cheeses with different extras such as crackers and fruit.

High Country Boards is also the only charcuterie company in the area selling dessert boards. Dessert boards include arrangements of cookies, brownies, packaged candies and more; they can accompany cheese and provide something sweet as well as stand-alone. Stacie says they get quite a few orders for the dessert boards, especially for events at Grandfather Winery and events where kids will be present.

Mandy and Stacie also lean heavily on their teamwork dynamic. Stacie most enjoys working with intricate food art, making flowers from meats and vegetables and learning new cutting techniques for embellishments. Mandy loves arranging the canvas itself to make art with the party’s occasion, seeking the “wow moment” when people take pictures and post to social media.

“We love a theme. Taste, season, color, that’s what makes it fun — we never make the same board twice,” Stacie says. “We love events for that reason, every event is different with different colors and flowers.”

Mandy and Stacie taste everything they use, only including what they like: Stacies’ favorite is pickled watermelon rind and prosciutto picks, while Mandy goes for the peppered salami and goat cheeses first. They’ve also found sauces are especially popular, such as fig sauce, pepper jelly and olive tapenade from Stacies’ mom.

Because all boards from High Country Boards are custom, clients can choose boards based on their intended wine pairing, the rest of the meal, or their dietary needs such as allergies. Local food is also at the center; they use breads from Stick Boy Bread Company, produce from Maw’s Produce and other items to support additional local small businesses when they can.

Stacie and Mandy highly recommend researching to find the best prices and buying on sale to try new things when it’s possible, as charcuterie can get expensive.

“It’s not so fun but it’s important,” Stacie says. “You have to look for good prices, especially in the grocery store. Do research and try (items) on sale so you can try things you might like.”

High Country Boards is online at highcountryboards.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

Charcuterie isn’t just for small parties at home or big events, either. Local service Pisgah Picnics, owned by High Country local Kappa Vasgaard, provides the whole experience in the High Country complete with food, location and guidebooks for the area.

Pisgah Picnics — which began operations in 2020 — offers complete picnics either delivered in a basket at a trailhead or in its tents in picturesque locations. Kappa said she specifically curates High Country ingredients in her picnic baskets to offer visitors, especially from out of state, “the best of what the Blue Ridge has to offer.”

“I’m trying to create and curate a full experience, with the locations I choose and the vendors I am showcasing through the food,” Kappa says. “(Pisgah Picnics includes) the full ambiance, with sheepskin rugs and floor cushions and a typewriter for writing notes to each other while playing vintage games.”

Her charcuterie boards draw heavily on ingredients from the local farmers’ market and High Country Food Hub, which is an online local farmers’ market operated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. Kappa was previously the maitre’d at the Gamekeeper, a four-diamond restaurant located between Boone and Blowing Rock known for its meats; she said their charcuterie and veggie plate inspired hers as well. She’s still looking to source closer for meats, but her eventual goal is for her charcuterie to be 100 percent local.

Because her picnics are full service, beyond the food, the experience also includes curated guidebooks that suggest restaurants, bars, hiking trails, farms and more. Weather is notoriously finicky in the High Country, but she offers tents, including one with heating for the winter, as well as outdoor rugs. She plans to remain open all year round so far as weather, locations and desire allows.

“We are such a tourist-driven economy, and we depend on everyone coming here to enjoy the outdoors,” Kappa says. “I’m really trying to focus on the local aspect and support other local businesses.”

More information about Pisgah Picnics can be found at www.pisgahpicnics.com.

Charcuterie can get complicated, with long lists of ingredients and intricate arrangements, but it doesn’t have to be. All the women mentioned started out by experimenting with tastes community members enjoy and trying new things in food and arrangement to keep a palate fresh.

Mandy, from High Country Boards, summarizes charcuterie trial and error simply: “Get a board, get big cheese, cut things different ways, start with big shapes and fill in smaller and smaller until it’s covered. If you don’t like it, eat it and try again.”

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Sophia Lyons holds a bachelor of science in journalism from Appalachian State University. She freelance copy edits and writes at sophiamlyons.com.

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