Story by Peter Thicke
Photography by Lindsay Henwood
An artisan charcuterie isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering the rugged west coast town of Tofino, but one has both arrived and thrived. Amidst the rich history of the place – from First Nations through logging and fishing into hopping eco-tourism destination – Picnic Charcuterie has begun delivering delicious preserved treats, including meats, cheeses, jellies and an assortment of other mouthwatering edibles.
Picnic’s owner, Tina Windsor, has a diverse background rooted in a love for the natural world. After studying Landscape Architecture and Organic agriculture, she worked at a number of grass-based livestock farms and ranches across Canada, followed by a stint apprenticing at Choux in Victoria, BC, where she learned about charcuterie. The philosophy behind Picnic is steeped in the time-honoured approach of the craftsperson. Tina strives to practice traditional aging and preserving techniques with a minimum of added preservatives to produce an exceptional product. There is a deep respect for land, too, gained from both education and experience.
‘I learned just how well we can take care of our land when we decide to prioritize stewardship over profit’, Tina says. A focus on both thinking and acting locally is evident in the suppliers she works with, and food sovereignty is a significant consideration. Actively working with small farms on Vancouver Island has allowed Picnic to support the production and harvest of ethically and sustainably raised goods, and given customers the ability to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. Stepping inside the low building that shares the surroundings with a gourmet catering company, brewery, and gravel yard – amongst other businesses – the visitor is greeted by an assortment of delectable food on display.
A freezer full of favourites like Shepard’s Pie and Tortilla Soup shares space with a number of more exotic flavours. Tina has been known to mix all sorts of local ingredients in, from cedar to chanterelles, and loves to watch people try a new creation only to fall in love with a flavor they may have never thought to try.
A constant favourite at Picnic is the jerky. According to Tina, it has been ‘taken across the world on trips, given as birthday gifts to people of all ages, and hoarded like gold when in short supply’. But for her, the most cherished products are those made with wild harvested ingredients. ‘I take a lot of pride in the flavour profiles I’ve designed around the tastes of Tofino’, she says, a location renowned for its plentiful and delicious wild food. In fact, profiling the flavours of the area is a key component of Tina’s approach, coupled with the strict adherence to traditional techniques and high standards of quality. Lining one side of the shop is the only non-edible product Picnic sells – t-shirts that reflect the offbeat humour and spirit behind the shop.
‘There were a lot of late nights during the first two years of the shop, but what happens in the meat cave, stays in the meat cave.’ Tina explains. ‘Unless it’s funny. Then it goes on a shirt’. Building a successful company in a small town at the end of a long road is no small feat, but Tina has found a niche that the community has embraced. Although she can’t recall the details herself, according to multiple friends Tina had wanted to run a meat and cheese shop for some time. She estimates that the idea had been percolating for about six years before she finally pulled the trigger and opened the doors of Picnic.
After moving to Tofino, many of the locals she spoke with encouraged her to open the charcuterie, and she decided the time was right and the opportunity was there. She credits ‘endless support’ from family and friends as the impetus for keeping up the energy needed to get the business off the ground.
Nowadays, the constant flow of compliments from patrons are enough to keep her motivated and consistently delivering exceptional foods. That flow doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon, either. With a dedicated group of repeat customers and new visitors, Picnic Charcuterie has become a must visit location when in Tofino. Soon, however, their flavours will be available elsewhere. A fresh web presence is in the works, complete with online store, along with wholesale contracts across Vancouver Island – much to the delight of food lovers in the area. However, an in-person visit to Picnic is an opportunity not to be missed if you have any interest in traditional preservation, slow food, or eating well.
Tina is more craftswoman than cook, with a deep understanding of the importance of food in relation to the health of both the land and people and a commitment to the maintenance of that relationship. ‘The resurgence of people taking up traditional craft is inspiring’, she says, ‘and I’m proud to be a part of that. I love that I can support sustainable land management while practicing a dying art form’.