(Katie Huger, owner of Long Board Charcuterie, curates exquisite, customized boards to celebrate special events as well as every day.)

By Marisa Marsey

There’s a joke circulating at fromageries: “How do you irritate a cheesemonger? Ask for a charcuterie board with no meat.” Katie Huger, owner of Long Board Charcuterie, can relate. When her friends serve an array of cheese and call it charcuterie, she gently pokes fun at them, “No, that’s a cheese plate!”

Still, she appreciates language’s fluidity. While the centuries-old French term originally meant prepared meats such as sausages, pâtés and terrines, it now embraces cheese as well as vegetables, fruit, nuts, olives and more. This semantic evolution accelerated under Covid-19 when oh-so-photogenic charcuterie, in all its four-season-friendliness, was elevated to “THE” food trend of the pandemic (sorry, cloud bread).

“When people weren’t going out to restaurants the way they normally would, it was still a way to have pretty, romantic, classy food,” explains Veronica Rueda, who enjoys posting her food art on Instagram and is researching steps to turn what she does for fun into a local business.

Scads of viral videos show DIY-ers how to sculpt salami roses, style Stilton, and fan crackers flatteringly (even make “jarcuterie” in mason jars), but if you’re more into hassle-free charcuterie, entrepreneurs will do the work and bring it to you.

Huger, a licensed caterer operating out of a commercial kitchen, launched Long Board (longboardcharcuterie.com), one of our area’s premier charcuterie outfits, in January 2020, pre-quarantine. “We were lucky,” she says. “We were always set around delivery so we didn’t have to change our business plan.”

She conceived that plan after moving to Virginia Beach to be with her now-husband. Inspired in part by her brother, a butcher in Madison, Wisc., who often sends her artisanal meats, heightening her knowledge of flavor notes and quality, the business was also a way to settle into her new digs.

Surfing Long Board’s site is like reading a Beach map with Shore Drive, Chicks Beach and North End among the names of customizable offerings. Prices range from $13 for individual boards (ideal for those who have Covid-concerns or just abhor sharing) to $200 for the Boardwalk Board feeding 15-20. Huger also has a brunch-themed board with bagels and caters weddings and other large events.

When blueprinting Virginia Cheese Co. (virginiacheeseco.com), owner Ashtyn Greene had envisioned cheese boards with charcuterie accoutrements as a natural fit for her shop in Norfolk’s Historic Freemason District. Since opening last August, sales have surpassed her dreams. “We sell boards in so many different formats, I’ve truly lost count!” she says, attempting to quantify their popularity. While delivery is available, more people pick up or dine-in. Costs run about $15/person, but Greene shares, “Some of our customers are quite knowledgeable in artisanal cheeses and will request that the board include specific rare and exquisite cheeses despite the cost differential.”

Both she and Huger emphasize that choosing premium, well-sourced ingredients is paramount in board building. “You need to be intentional in your selections and accompaniments,” says Huger. “Very often, people can make it pretty but that’s it.” Huger considers textures, tastes, different cheese milks. She believes that a “really good nut bumps up the satiety of the board,” and fresh fruit is a must “to break up the saltiness.”

Going through about 50 pounds of meat and up to 100 pounds of artisanal cheese per week, Huger continues to grow Long Board Charcuterie, partnering with The VB Picnic Co. and offering pick up at HortiCulture Design Co.’s Laskin Road location to augment a delivery area that covers most of Virginia Beach and parts of Norfolk. She’s also speaking with the ABC Board about adding wine to her service.

Charcuterie and wine are so compatible that Kiera Hill, a certified sommelier and owner of Vino Culture (vinocultureva.com), an eno-education company enlightening people about the “why” behind the wine they enjoy via in-home tastings, classes, and wine delivery (a somm-on-wheels, if you will, for Hampton Roads and points beyond like Gloucester and Zuni), introduced a $35 charcuterie add-on for the holidays. The “Chef’s Board” created by Keith Hunt (whom she met when they used to work together at Press 626) featuring cheese, cured meats, homemade sauces, house-spiced nuts – “the whole shebang” as Hill says – proved so popular she’s continued delivering boards weekly on Fridays when ordered with wine.

“Wine always tastes better when it’s shared with people and paired with food,” she says. “And it’s all about education.” Just as each bottle in her curated 6-packs comes tagged with the wine’s backstory, her boards also impart facts about the products and their provenance. Vino Culture’s boards also differ from most because they’re not precut and arranged. “As soon as you cut into a cheese it changes it,” Hill explains. “And I want to preserve the quality.”

Charcuterie, for sure, can shape-shift. Brooke Haushalter is planning to start Brooke’s Boards & Boxes, personalizing orders like the house-shaped box she gave to her best friend, a realtor, and the he-man-themed birthday board for her significant other, anchored with beef jerky. She aims to fill papier-mâché boxes in the form of letters and numbers to celebrate special people, birthdays and anniversaries, accenting the cute in charcuterie. Single-serve cones, in classic (skewers of meat/cheese/olives/long crackers) and sugar-rush (skewers of candy/cookies/cupcakes), are on the drawing board, too. 

As Haushalter cooks up marketing ideas, she consults the calendar for occasions like Teacher Appreciation Week and National Nurses Week. Veronica Rueda, the food artist who’s also preparing to onboard into the scene, exclaims: “Holy Cow! You start to realize how many holidays there are. You can make a board for everything.”

Still, charcuterie shouldn’t be reserved for holidays. “We need to celebrate the little wins like having a good Internet connection for your Zoom meeting,” says Huger of Long Board Charcuterie. And as Haushalter observes, “It can be for a Saturday with your girlfriends or Sunday during football season to munch on all day long.” It’s a way to savor every day.