Even before the pandemic, Cameron knew that she wanted to own her own business — she just didn’t know what exactly that business would be. After spending a decade at DCP Midstream, a natural gas company, she needed a reset, so she planned a two-month work sabbatical to travel to Europe, reflect during the downtime, and plan her next move.
Unfortunately, she planned her sabbatical for 2020, and her trip was ultimately canceled. But quarantine provided her the space and time to reflect on her passions, skills and how she wanted her day-to-day to look like for the rest of her life.
“Charcuterie boards have always been a treat to myself. …I often found on Fridays, if I didn’t have plans, I would just make a charcuterie board for dinner,” Cameron explains. “And I just love the European culture of sitting down at a local cafe and grazing on a board, so I incorporated it into my own routine.”
It was also a matter of staying healthy. In 2012, Cameron was diagnosed with celiac disease and, “it kind of changes your whole world when you can’t eat wheat, barley or rye,” she says. She found herself often unable to participate in group meals at work and in her personal life, and often felt bad when others had to accommodate her special food needs. Her alternatives were often to bring her own food, or avoid going to events altogether.
Although gluten-free dining options are more popular now than in the past, Cameron was always concerned about cross-contamination at restaurants, so she often limited herself to only dining out at places that were totally gluten-free. “I just started thinking, what’s something that I would enjoy? …And the charcuterie business came up,” she explains. She briefly explored the idea of opening a wine bar, but decided to start with a business that required less capital up front, especially since Cameron doesn’t have any traditional restaurant or hospitality experience.
It was a leap for someone who had spent almost a decade and a half with a stable job in the engineering industry, but Cameron knew she needed to make a change for herself. So in January 2022, she officially launched Charcuter-Marie and became a full-time small business owner.
The first challenge to tackle was finding a location. “Because I wanted a completely gluten-free space, it was a bit of a journey trying to find a location,” Cameron explains. There are many commissary kitchens in Denver, but most were out due to the fear of cross-contamination. In the end, Cameron opted for a private kitchen space in order to guarantee a 100 percent gluten-free environment for her clients.
“Obviously, the crackers and bread is the most important part to make sure it is gluten-free,” she says. “But I also need to check other items such as jams and canned things to make sure there’s not any traces of wheat, etc.”
Now with a year-and-a-half under her belt, Cameron has found her groove. Charcuter-Marie offers different-sized charcuterie and veggie/fruit boards, but her most popular sellers are the large charcuterie boards that serve fifteen people. Most of her customers are purchasing for company happy hours and parties, birthday parties, and wedding and baby showers. Cameron says she is also starting to see more business from realtors who buy the artfully-arranged boards for open houses.
For even larger events, Cameron breaks out the grazing table, which is the same concept as a board, but is built on a table covered with butcher paper as the canvas. One of her most memorable was an order for 300 people for the Trek Bike downtown happy hour, which happened only a few weeks after she launched her business — she even got to stay and hear Tour de France cyclist Jens Voigt speak, she recalls. “A lot of times I drop off the food and don’t get to see people eat it or how they’re reacting. But for this event, I did, and it was really fun to get to talk with the people at the event and hear what they have to say,” Cameron says.
In addition to large-scale events, she also sells quite a few smaller boards for date nights, picnics and girl’s nights. Prices range between $38-$145 depending on the type and size. While that is certainly pricier than making your own meat-and-cheese platter, Cameron notes that the benefit of ordering from her is that she’s “spent the time researching and sourcing all these items that folks really enjoy.”
Some personal favorites are anything from St. Kilian’s Cheese and Meat Shop in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood, Red Camper’s pueblo chile and peach jam, and Bjorn’s Colorado Honey. “So instead of you having to run around picking up all these things, because you can’t just find them all at one location, we’ve procured those and can assemble a beautiful board that has a nice variety of items that pair well together.”
Charcuter-Marie does an average of fifteen catering orders a week, which equates to four to six hours of shopping, twenty to thirty hours assembling the boards, and another six hours doing deliveries. Business has been doing well, driven in part by the overall increase in interest in charcuterie boards over the last few years. Cameron is even considering offering charcuterie workshops for a casual friend hangout where guests can learn composition and pairing tips for their personal charcuterie boards.
For now, though, she’s offered up some of her favorite tricks for next homemade board a little more special:
What are some best practices for arranging a board?
Most important is having a mixture of different types of food — different textures, different colors to make the board vibrant. For cheese, you’ll want hard and soft cheese. I’ve found that everyone loves a nice aged gouda, sharp cheddar cheese, and brie is always a big hit. For meat, you’ll want a variety, not just all salami or prosciutto. I recommend turkey breast slices. And then add in purple or green grapes or berries to add that additional color and flavor. It’s really getting to explore different tastes and textures and see what you like.
Any no-no’s you’ve learned the hard way?
Some people really hate goat cheese. So if it’s a crowd you’re not familiar with, I’d leave the goat cheese off the board. However, if you do like goat cheese, there’s great herbed goat cheese out there, or different flavors like honey or blueberry goat cheese. The other thing to keep in mind is anything like olives or marinated mozzarella or cornichons, make sure to put those in small bowls because as they’re left out [especially if it’s warmer], they’ll make the rest of the board soggy.
Other than Charcuter-Marie, where in Denver serves the best charcuterie?
A personal favorite of mine is So Damn Gouda [in Sunnyside]. They’re really good. Barcelona Wine Bar has great meat and cheese boards, too, that’s over in RiNo. And Truffle Table, not to be confused with Truffle Cheese Shop, who are really great also, although it’s not a restaurant.