Apr 1, 2024
Girls Night Out

Get ‘Board’ in a good way with Salt + Olive Board Co.

I’m not sure which I love more, gathering with friends over good food and wine or learning new things, so recently I decided to combine the two by inviting a group over to learn art of building a beautiful charcuterie board. Zo Vanselow and Michelle Lee Metz are the proprietors of Salt + Olive Board Co., and they were the perfect teachers and companions for the evening.

Charcuterie is all the rage and can satisfy so many food preferences like Keto, Paleo and gluten-free. The word’s origins come from the French “chair,” or flesh, and “cuit,” or cooked, and that explains the prevalence of cured meat on any board. That was just one of many things these two gregarious and fun women taught us. More on that to come, but first, their story.

These two friends began their journey in business when they realized that every time they got together to hang out was around a charcuterie board.

“We found out pretty quickly that we enjoy sitting around and chatting,” Vanselow said in her lively British accent. “Both of our families growing up were big foodies. We both have a relationship with food and friendship.”

Indeed. Vanselow’s earliest childhood memories are of being in her dad’s Polish delicatessen, watching him slice cured meats, kielbasas and specialty cheeses.

“Growing up in a Polish household in London, pickles, herring, canapés and platters of meats and cheese were the norm,” she explained. “Our house always had a revolving door.”

Vanselow said she loves entertaining, getting friends together, arranging a board and opening a great bottle of wine.

“I guess that’s where it all started, watching my dad hang the meats in the window, arrange the cheeses in the fridge and use the strange cheese cutting wire that fascinated me.”

Family traditions learned from those early days continued.

“When the kids were little, we had a ‘picky bits’ board for New Year’s Eve. I guess it’s been a part of me for a long while. Salt + Olive felt like a very natural progression,” Vanselow said.

Partner Metz has similar fond memories that fuel her passion for sharing delicious food. She grew up near Nashville with hard-working parents who both embedded the value of home-cooked meals.

“They both worked full time jobs but yet still found the time to fix a full breakfast, lunch and dinner every day,” she explained. “Every year we had a garden full of fresh vegetables and fruit. Their passion for growing their own food and using it to feed their kids is where my passion to provide that for my own family comes from.”

Metz truly loves cooking for family and friends.

“As I have aged, gracefully of course,” she said with a wink, “I have used cooking as my happy place, my meditation. I love cooking a meal and sitting around with my husband and two kids and watching them enjoy themselves. It’s the best four hours of my day!”

Once the two conceived the notion of going into business together, they decided to do it right. They searched and searched until they found a proper place to do their prep.

“In order to be licensed and insured in Florida you have to have a commissary,” Vanselow said.

Once that was out of the way, they began to perfect their craft and take on more custom assignments.

The pair has created a wide range of offerings for every need. For example, they offer disposable boards wrapped in organic boxes as small as for one or two people to enjoy, up to boards that will feed 10-12 people.

“We try to make each box a little different so that we are not giving someone the same things each time,” Metz said. “And we always capitalize on seasonal items! These are great for girls’ nights, date nights, office break rooms, open houses, teacher appreciation, etc.!”

The benefit of being a small outfit is that they don’t have to give up on quality by buying and storing in bulk.

“The biggest thing for us is right now we’re able to buy fresh. The day of, the day before. We didn’t want to have a ton of overhead. We wanted to be able to feel that we could be as creative as we wanted,” Vanselow said.

They have found a wide range of sources for their ingredients as well, from Trader Joe’s in Tallahassee to Merefa grocery on N. Davis Highway. in Pensacola, which features food from Russia, Poland, Germany and more far-away places.

So what did we learn about building a perfect charcuterie board? Well, as Metz and Vanselow said, there are as many guidelines as there are types of cheese. If it works for you and you like it, it’s fine.

“The beauty is…it’s whatever you like,” Metz said.

Most modern boards include three each of cheeses, meats, accoutrements and starches. They demonstrated building a gorgeous board for us step by step (see sidebar on page 53). Along the way, they peppered the fun conversation with trivia about the items they were using.

“Zo makes the best pickled onions,” Metz said. And she was right!

“Grapes are on everything we do. They are a great little palate cleanser. They will cut the creamy cheeses and are a great statement piece,” Vanselow explained.

Some surprises we loved were the bit of honeycomb left in the bowl of honey (gorgeous), dried apricots with blue cheese and homemade jam they advised enjoying with the cheddar – pure heaven!

We learned how to fold prosciutto like a napkin and pinch — the fat holds it together in a little fan shape. And we practiced layering slices of salami around a shot glass to create the classic “salami rose.”

Vanselow and Metz showed us you can elevate any board by knowing some of the secrets of visual feasting. White cheeses look beautiful next to dark berries. If you can get blood oranges, put slices on your board; they are stunning. Negative space on a board is really pretty, as is a sprig or two of fresh thyme.

One reason for the popularity of a charcuterie board is that it’s the perfect opportunity for someone to try something in a small amount and see if they like it.

Whether you’re looking to add to a party, wedding or business event, or you’d like to add a new skill to your repertoire, the experts at Salt + Olive Board Co. have something for you.

For catering, they offer entire grazing tables. The Classic Grazing Table is an arrangement on butcher paper that is easy to just throw away at the end of event. The Elevated Grazing Table is displayed at multiple levels for a more dramatic display. They require five to seven days’ notice for these to determine the layout and get fresh produce.

They can also do gluten free boards, holiday boards and dessert boards.

“We were doing some research and found that more and more folks are choosing to stay home and have family and friends over rather than going out as much,” Metz said. “We thought it would be pretty cool to offer the ability to not only cater but have an activity for your group, in your own home. So now we offer our ‘girls’ night in’ to learn how to make a board. It doesn’t have to be just girls, though.”

They like to keep classes at about six people just to make sure everyone is able to participate. They are $45 a person. For one type of class,  Vanselow and Metz explain and demonstrate while each person builds their own mini board that they can take with them. They also do classes for the holidays at $65 a person.

Another option is how we did it, where the two explain and demonstrate techniques while building a big board as the group watches and learns. Then the group can enjoy the board together at the end. It was so fun and informative — a perfect girls’ night!

For classes, expect about two hours of learning time with an hour setup beforehand and cleanup time afterward.

Salt + Olive’s tips for building the perfect charcuterie board

Know your crowd and go for a board vibe based on what they like.

Make sure to clean and fully season (oil) your board before use.

Include three meats and three cheeses.

Use a grid system.

Decide whether the event is a gather-around-the-board style or has more of an assembly line feel. If guests will make a plate and go sit somewhere, then you want it to be as easy to assemble as possible.

Start with placing your “spread” bowls on the board, like a mustard and an organic jam. Then place your olive and nuts bowls so that you can assemble around them and use them as anchors.

Place the grapes. If you can get a large cluster, put it in the corner or on the side of the board.

Add a show-stopping cheese such as a small brie wheel or a merlot- or espresso-dipped cheddar. Make it the center of attention. It’s nice to make a winding cheddar river with the beautiful rind showing in the center.

Try to include a hard salami and a soft salami on each board. The hard salami is nice to use as an anchor and the soft salami can be used as rivers or fill-ins.

Next, add soft cheeses like blue crumble, a vintage cheddar crumble, cubes of semi-soft gouda, cute triangle-cut cheddar or a manchego that is cracker-sized and pretty.

Baguettes, crackers and any other breads can be stuffed in and around the board. Leave extra in a bowl as well.

Then fill around that with dried fruits, extra nuts and loose fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Drizzle honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top of the desired items.

Make sure to put out utensils! Include a knife, spoon, fork and tongs on each board.


Want more information?

What: Salt + Olive Board Co. charcuterie catering, to-go and classes

Contact: Response time is typically within an hour at saltoliveboardco@gmail.com; saltoliveboardco.com; or Facebook message.


Bella editor Lisa Player is a freelance writer and editor as well as a middle school teacher, wife and mother of three grown children. Long ago, she was a magician’s assistant and a community theatre actor, too. She has lived in seven states and two countries and loves to travel. You can reach her at lisa@bellamagazine.com.