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VOL. 133 | NO. 138 | Thursday, July 12, 2018

Say Cheese

Build-your-own cheese board festival taps unfilled niche in Memphis

Melinda Lejman

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A new food festival is coming to Memphis this summer, and it’s already a sold-out event. The inaugural Butcher Board Festival will be held at the South Main Market on Sunday, July 22, and will feature charcuterie, cheeses, brews, and more, all of which are sourced from local vendors.

The festival is the brainchild of small-business owner Cristina McCarter, who owns and runs City Tasting Tours of Memphis.

According to McCarter, only a few cities are doing a charcuterie-focused festival, so bringing one to Memphis is a big reason for the festival’s early success.

Cristina McCarter, owner of City Tasting Tours of Memphis and creator of the Butcher Board Festival, sits inside 409 S. Main, where the festival will be hosted on July 22.  (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“I think it took off because it’s something new,” says McCarter. “Cheese boards are really becoming a thing, and pairing them with wine and beer and cider.”

Festival attendees will sample tastings from Crosstown Brewing Co., Meddlesome and Long Road Cider, as well as wines from Civil Pour. “Festivals are hard, but getting people to be involved has been easy, because Memphis is becoming a community,” says McCarter, speaking of the growing craft brewing community here.

Carter Beard, owner of Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods, was one of the first food vendors to come on board. “It’s different,” Beard says of the concept. “It’s not just another crafts fair. And we’re finally able to do charcuterie on the same level as the Italians and French and Spanish, so it’s really good timing for this.”

Individual passes for the event are $45 and include access to all food, wine and beer samples. A portion of sales will benefit the Mid-South Food Bank.

Upon arrival, guests will be given a cheese board and tasting glass as part of the experiential-tasting format held inside the South Main Market’s food hall. Vendors also will sell items in a retail area.

Brad McCarley is the head butcher of City Block Salumeria, the butcher shop formerly known as Porcellino’s. City Block is a headliner for the event, and will bring cured meats including capicola, chorizo and pastrami. “We start with a raw product that comes from Home Place Pastures in Como, Mississippi,” says McCarley. “We like to start with whole animals and use the entire thing, from tail to snout.”

Aaron Winters, head chef at The Vault restaurant, prepares the restaurant’s popular appetizer, the “Butcher Board.” Winters is one of a few South Main food vendors in the inaugural Butcher Board Festival. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

McCarley believes interest in the event stems from what he describes as a revolution in the way people think about their food. “It’s the way people are eating, and the way people are thinking about their local food systems,” he says. “People want to know that things are coming from local producers and local farms. I think people like to know the people who are making their food.”

“Cristina is also just a monster of promotion,” he says of McCarter’s passion and drive for bringing good eats and good people together.

In a town where food is already a mainstay of tourism, McCarter thinks Memphis can do better. “I compare Memphis to Vegas,” she says, with a nod to Graceland and Memphis barbecue. “Vegas used to be known just for gambling, but it is so much more than that. You can go there and not ever gamble during the entire trip. They back it up with other stuff to do. Memphis can do the same thing.”

Beard plans to provide tastings of his champagne strawberry preserves, champagne jelly and one of his popular craft mustards. McCarter “was very selective in the vendors she chose for this event,” says Beard. “She came to me because I’m able to provide unique things that will complement the cheeses and the meats that she’s going after.”

McCarter said she plans to keep the festival Downtown, and is already scouting new venues in anticipation of growing interest and ticket sales.

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