Graze Craze expands the already snack-size charcuterie trend in Pittsburgh | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Graze Craze expands the already snack-size charcuterie trend in Pittsburgh

click to enlarge Graze Craze expands the already snack-size charcuterie trend in Pittsburgh
Photo: Courtesy of Graze Craze / Big Flavor Brands™
Charcuterie board from Graze Craze
When Emily Whitaker, owner and manager of Graze Craze, decided she wanted to open her own food franchise, she initially looked into chocolate. But the Ross Township native found the market for candy and chocolate can be variable, with sales relying on seasonal spikes, and coming with a high barrier to entry requiring specialized kitchen equipment. Instead, she wanted something a bit more straightforward, and unique, that would also resonate locally, appealing to her hometown.

“I just couldn’t find anything that really spoke to me,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper. That was until she discovered Graze Craze — a “grazing board business” specializing in customizable charcuterie boards and boxes — “I’[d] never heard of a charcuterie franchise either,” she admits.

Based in Newcastle, Okla., the company promotes a year-round “food experience” and catering services led by its “Grazologists.”

“It just really seemed so fun and unique and different,” Whitaker says. “And I fell in love with it.”

Gaining popularity in the last couple years, a charcuterie board consists of an array of bite-sized appetizers — usually a selection of cured meats, cheeses, and fruits — served on a single platter. There’s an art to selecting which foods appear on the board together, with preparers aiming for unique flavor combinations, and over-the-top presentation, crafting salami roses and carving cheese stars.

In 2020, Business Insider deemed the charcuterie trend a “millennial phenomenon,” with one influencer likening the boards to “adult Lunchables.” Industry professionals speculated that COVID quarantine played a role, pushing many toward simpler home cooking and reviving what began as a 15th century practice.

In Pittsburgh, the trend seems to have taken off around five years ago, with Chantal’s Cheese Shop opening in 2018, Justin Severino's Salty Pork Bits — a charcuterie-specific business — in 2020, and Mt. Oliver charcuterie store The Cheese Queen (whose owner embraces the “adult Lunchables” label) launching last summer.

Whitaker expands the food trend to the North Hills, opening Graze Craze’s first Pittsburgh location in November, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony from the Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber the following month. The shop at 3336 Babcock Blvd. moved into a former Subway location, which Whitaker says was “approachable” since, unlike other food businesses, with charcuterie, “we’re not cooking anything … there’s no dining room, no hood … [instead] a lot of cutting, washing, assembling, and mixing.”

She also confirms that her business’s name is not a misnomer: the boards are in fact a craze.

“It’s something that is really taking off all over the country,” she tells City Paper. (Another Graze Craze franchise in Fox Chapel, helmed by a husband-and-wife team, also opened shortly after Whitaker’s.)

Graze Craze HQ even contends the fad now encompasses not just charcuterie but an entire style of eating, with the five-year-old company’s blog noting that its business is “the innovator in an attractive food trend sweeping the nation known as ‘Grazing.’” The millennial all-day snacker is coming for boomers’ three square meals a day.
click to enlarge Graze Craze expands the already snack-size charcuterie trend in Pittsburgh
Photo: Courtesy of Graze Craze / Big Flavor Brands™
Charcuterie board from Graze Craze
For her part, Whitaker, herself a millennial, says her customers don’t skew heavily in one age group, and older corporate clients make up a large part of the business. The appeal, she tells CP, is universal, and simply that people “love those little bites of things.”

“You're not only having a meal, but you're able to try so many different flavor combinations,” she says. “It’s something really fun.”

Her personal favorite mashup comes from Graze Craze's best-selling Holiday Board — a bright purple blueberry goat cheese paired with a tart raspberry jam. The full board is packed with a premium selection of meats, cheeses, and spreads with ingredients sourced from all over the region including: cranberry walnut bread from Sewickley's Mediterra Cafe; kalamata olives, dried figs, and olive oil for hummus from Liokareas Olive Oil in Bethel Park; chocolate from Spectrum Fudge (a hand-crafted fudge purveyor that also advocates for autistic individuals); and sausage from Parma Sausage Products in the Strip District.

Another popular choice among Pittsburghers is the Game Day Board — great for tailgating, Whitaker says — that allows sports fans to swap out the same old chips and dip for a medley with dry-cured meats, jams, and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables (picture fennel-spiced ham and English cucumber outside Acrisure Stadium).

“Everything local is always better,” Whitaker says, and the business hopes to source from all local vendors as it develops, as well as offering meats and cheeses for sale separately.

Whitaker and her family — all of whom are pitching in to staff the new franchise — will be fulfilling orders through Christmas Eve, should you want to add prosciutto petals to your own holiday table.

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