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Good Grazing

The Grazing Table owner Jenna Gamrat, center, serves charcuterie selections to customers, clockwise from far left, Hannah and Landon Talmadge and Scott Misar.

The Grazing Table owner Jenna Gamrat, center, serves charcuterie selections to customers, clockwise from far left, Hannah and Landon Talmadge and Scott Misar. © 2021 Encore Publications/Brian Powers
Charcuterie takes meat and cheese platters to a new level

Listen up, holiday party planners. Those simple meat and cheese and veggie platters are no more. They’ve been replaced by their more upscale, art-conscious cousin: charcuterie.

Charcuterie isn’t new. It has been around for centuries. The technical definition of the French term is a platter of cured meats. But in recent years, thanks to social media, charcuterie has taken on new forms that include a combination of foods, including meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables, all artistically arranged on a wooden board or other surface. It’s become as much about how the board is designed as what is on it to eat.

The charcuterie phenomenon prompted a Kalamazoo couple in October to open The Grazing Table, a restaurant at 402 S. Burdick St., that specializes in the artistic gastronomical creations.

Joey and Jenna Gamrat discovered their passion for charcuterie almost by accident. The two became engaged to marry, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Jenna’s bridal shower was canceled, but Joey still wanted to do something special for her to celebrate, so he made her a charcuterie board. They both really enjoyed it, so Jenna jumped in, and the two kept making them. Eventually friends would compliment their charcuterie skills and ask them to make custom boards for them.

“I thought, ‘I’ve never done that, but, sure, I’ll give it a go,’” Joey says.

At the time, Joey was working at Trader Joe’s (Jenna is a professional photographer), but charcuterie became a passion for the couple. Learning from tutorials online and trial and error, the Gamrats upped their charcuterie knowledge, learning what foods pair well on a board and ways to display them. The more charcuterie boards they made, the more encouragement they received to take their talents to the next level.

“We began to just test it with friends and family, and then it really started getting big within the last five months or so, to the point where we’re like, ‘This is a thing we can do. We can make this work,’” Joey says. “We started considering me quitting my 9-to-5 if we got a shop. Then we just decided to go full steam ahead and make it happen, so it has been very much a win. It really started as a hobby at first. Then we realized just the potential that it had.”

“Because it was just becoming so big, we wanted to take it to the next level, so we began looking for storefronts,” Jenna says.

They found one in the former location of Tibbs Brewing Co. and got to work on making the shop a reality. In addition to selling charcuterie for dine-in customers, The Grazing Table will also offer grab-and-go boards, meats and cheeses, and other items created by local businesses and by small businesses from around the country.

“We want it to be a place for everyone to feel welcome and comfortable,” Jenna says. “It will be a calm, chill atmosphere. We want it to feel like the vibe of a coffee shop.”

The pair also plan to offer workshops on creating charcuterie boards.

“Yes, I want people to come buy our boards, but what I want most is for people to fall in love with charcuterie so much that they feel like they can do it at their house with their family or their friends,” Joey says.

Creative Effort

The “intentionality” of charcuterie is part of its appeal and burgeoning popularity, say the Gamrats, noting that the time it takes to design and make one shows that the creator put in effort to make something special. It also allows people to showcase and share their creativity, especially through social media.

“Social media, I believe that’s the key today,” Joey says. “There are just so many tutorials available online, and that’s how I feel like we’ve learned along the way. People want to share ‘I did this, or I made this.’”

Maggie Drew

Maggie interviewed the owners of two very different but equally interesting Kalamazoo businesses for this issue. She met with Tim and Tracy Lynn Kowalski, owners of Bio-Kleen, to talk about this company whose products have gained a national reputation for being among the best and most environmentally safe cleaners on the market. “What I loved about Tim’s story of success was he just listened to what the people around him wanted or needed and he made it,” says Maggie. “It was also really great to see that someone at his level of success really cares about giving back to people.” Maggie also interviewed Adam Weiner about his LEGO store, Bricks and Minifigs, which opens in Kalamazoo later this month and will sell new as well as used LEGO products. “Adam’s personal LEGO collection is very impressive,” she says. “I was intrigued by the community of people who love LEGO and the intricate details in all the sets.” Maggie, who graduated from Western Michigan University in April, worked at Encore as an intern during her senior year.

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