Quincy…a charcuterie community

wicked thyme2

QUINCY — One morning, I was having a casual conversation with Sarah Stephens, the Executive Director of the Horizons food pantry.

She mentioned how successful their latest benefit was … the Charcuterie in CommUNITY. They had a number of entries in the competition … professional and amateur. They are already making plans for next year’s event.

I said something like “that’s a lot of fuss over a bunch of ham and cheese trays.”

Suddenly, her overhead lights flickered. Her office door slammed shut. The room grew colder. Clouds rolled in at an alarming rate. Lightning flashed.  Sarah’s eyes grew large and penetrating. And she said something like, “Oh Ron, my dear boy, you have much to learn.”

Then faster than Wyatt Earp pulling a pistol, her phone appeared with a picture of the winning charcuterie board.

Did my eyes deceive me? Were those flowers … flowers made from meat? I slowly looked up at Sarah, who smiled and said, “You should call Crystal King at Wicked Thyme.”

Wicked Thyme is located at 534 Hampshire. All they do is charcuterie boards. King could have chosen any food to open a storefront, so why charcuterie?

“I’ve always been attracted to anything aesthetic and charcuterie gave me that”, King said. “The smells, the textures, the visual of it. I started doing this as a hobby before I left Prairie Farms.”

King spent 17 years at Prairie Farms in southern Illinois working with food preparation, food safety, food handling, and taste sensory analysis. She retired and moved to Quincy to be closer to her fiancé. 

During the pandemic, she discovered that charcuterie was a great way to bring people together. 

“The office was changing.” King noticed. “People’s demeanor changed. So, I made a board one day and brought it in. I saw people from every level, every floor. People that had never seen each other before or spoke to each other. And everybody kind of came together.”

The term “charcuterie” when translated from the French means “cooked flesh”.  In the 15th century, French shops created boards as a method of using every bit of the meat. Soon cheeses, vegetables and fruits were added. Thus, forming the charcuterie boards that we have today.

But why now? Why the phenomenon? Heather Prach is the Education Director at the International Dairy, Deli and Bakery Association (IDDBA).

“During COVID, people were eating more luxury foods.” Prach mentioned. “So, charcuterie is a bit more high end and luxury. People were taking it home. Along with specialty cheeses that pair really well. You were having specialty cheeses; you were having charcuterie and you were having wine. Now I can have that whole experience at home. So that’s where it really kind of took off.”

Prach reminds us that charcuterie isn’t just any meat.

“Technically charcuterie is the aged meat. A salami or a prosciutto.” Prach adds “It doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and it doesn’t have to be cooked. So, I can build a charcuterie board and leave it out for hours. That’s pretty darn good. It’s low maintenance.”

Charcuterie is incredibly popular. So much a part of our culture now. Social media is saturated with influencers covering the topic. 

And now, the IDDBA has developed an official certification to be a Salumiere: a subject matter expert in the sale and handling of charcuterie products. To sit for the exam, you must have nearly 1500 hours of experience over a two-year period in charcuterie or deli-related retail.

The creation of a charcuterie board has become a bit of an art form. I simply asked King of Wicked Thyme what a charcuterie board entails. 

“It’s a wooden board that is filled with an eclectic collaboration of different high-end meats and cheeses. And then they’re garnished with jams and mustards. They include seasonal fruits and vegetables. During the summer, they include organic edible flowers that are grown here in Quincy.  Plus, locally sourced honey and cookies.”

Ok. I’m starting to get it. Charcuterie is more than the paper plates filled with summer sausage, cheese and crackers my mother gave us while watching football. Much more.

“I like to nourish people.’ King says. “I’ve always been a nurturer. Not only just feeding their bellies, but their soul too. And I feel like charcuterie does that. It takes people to another place.”

If you’d like more information on Wicked Thyme, go to www.wickedthyme.com. And for webinars and other charcuterie information, you can visit the International Dairy, Deli, and Bakery Association website at www.iddba.org.

Charcuterie photos courtesy of Wicked Thyme.

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