CHARLESTON CHOPS, A CUT ABOVE
by Kathleen Curry
Earth Day was officially last Sunday, but every day offers opportunities to make choices that respect the earth. A lot of companies have made an effort to be environmentally conscious in their practices in recently. But there is a 33-year old Charleston company whose consumer products division has been made a point to be environmentally- conscious from day one: Charleston Chops on upper Meeting Street.
Charleston Chops (CC) is the consumer product division of Charleston Woodworks, founded in 1979 by James Jacobs. In the 2000s, CW was looking for ways to diversify its product offerings. Sarah, Jacobs’ daughter and a recent CofC graduate, made hewing out this new venture her mission. She thoroughly researched product possibilities, their markets, and marketing. Charleston Chops was born, arriving just in time for a revival in home-cooking and a desire to bring restaurant quality tools into the American home kitchen.
CC boards are made with three types of wood: Cherry has a rosé tone, Maple has a straw/golden tone, and the Sapele (pronounced “sah-pee-lee”) has a mahogany or red-brown tone. The cherry and maple hail from New England, the Sapele hails from Africa. CC also makes kitchen work tables, islands, and countertops in these same materials. Charleston Grill's former head chef, Bob Waggoner, has an autographed line of wood products available through CC. CC boards are featured on his PBS series "UCook With Chef Bob".
CC also has novelty products like wine bottle-shaped small cutting boards and engraved pieces. Board and blocks can be engraved with monograms, a palmetto and moon, or pineapple designs. Sarah says the Palmetto boards have been a huge hit with BMW staff in the Upstate. Consumers can also arrange to have a board at their local store customized with an engraving.
Products can also be ordered online or onsite, but Sarah says CC prefers to act as wholesaler—the customers interact with their knowledgeable retail partners, and CC focuses on craftsmanship. Locally it works like this: the customer orders a board through Coastal Cupboard, DwellSmart or WholeFoods, they are given a graphic rendering of the board according to specs. Once the order is finalized, the wood is prepared by hand at every step of the process, much like the home cooking. After the wood is cut, the product is treated with a wax mineral coating that keeps the wood hydrated. Tables and islands are treated with a grain guard-certified, environmentally responsible finish. Adhesives used are also green guard-certified and FDA approved. CC prides itself on being low waste facility in all divisions--its run-offs are saved for future products, and sawdust and chip byproducts are recycled. CC also makes conditioning oil for board maintenance and upkeep. All CC products are food safe, and they are easily cleaned with salt and lemon juice. Boards are typically ready for pickup at the store 2-4 weeks after their order was finalized.
Coastal Cupboard and Georgetown’s Kudzu Mercantile were among the first local businesses to carry CC products. Kudzu had long pined for a locally made brand to sell alongside Boos brand boards. Boos is the leading brand of boards in the country; they are manufactured in the Midwest, and their products are featured on the Food Network. How does a newer wood product compete with Boos? Sarah says they do not try to compete; CC is in a category of its own making--it is artisanal, and because each piece is custom-made by hand, there is little inventory to store.
Sarah says there's more to cutting boards and blocks than consumers might think. On the lower end are disposable plastic sheets and boards that are cheap, but frequently need replacing; on the higher end are bamboo and wood boards. Plastic is easily scratched; scratches create places for bacteria to build up. No amount of cleaning can renew the board. Since most boards are not recyclable, they end up in a landfill forever. Bamboo is very sustainable, and unlike plastic, it is biodegradable. It has a brittle nature once it’s formed into a board, though, and this brittleness gradually dulls knives. Spending $75-200+ on knives and far less on a board, especially a board that could ruin knives, makes little long-term fiscal sense.
Wood has been used in kitchens for ages, long before the 20th century introduced rival materials. Wood is anti-microbial, easy to clean, and long-lasting. Sarah says that a lot of people are suspicious of wood because they mistakenly believe it is ‘helping deplete forests around the world’. This is not necessarily the case. Rainforest and other endangered wood types are ineligible to supply sustainable forestry groups and their associate businesses. Furthermore, sustainable forestry organizations, like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), require their wood suppliers to respect local laws, land ownership rights, indigenous peoples, wildlife, and local economies so that none of those parties are harmed by the cutting and sale of their wood. CC products are all FSC-certified. Certification does mean a slightly higher price tag; however, like Fair Trade coffees, this certification assures the consumer that they simultaneously serving the greater good and getting a high-quality, lasting product.
CC will be at the Wragg Square Park Craftshow on May 25-27 as part of Piccolo Spoleto. This is CC’s first time at a Spoleto event, and they couldn’t be more excited. In March, they were part of the Wine and Food festival for the third straight year. They also appeared at the 2011 TASTE in Myrtle Beach, and 2010’s Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall. See charlestonchops.biz, or Charleston Chops on Facebook for new product offerings, product manufacturing videos, and future appearances. Their parent company, Charleston Woodworks, is available for Crown Moulding, Wood Molding, Custom Woodworking, Base Moulding, Furniture Cabinets, and Antique Furniture Restoration for businesses and homes.
CC is a chip off the old block, and a cut above the rest in today’s board and block market.
Kathleen Curry is a Lowcountry native an alumni of C of C, Carolina and Greenville Tech. In addition to contributing to Eat This! , Curry has a blog at bakingkookys.com; she is on twitter @BakingKookys and @ Currying_Favor.