Artful Cheese Boards from Artifaqt
I am a sucker for the hand-hewn. You know this. I like cheeses that are cut and shaped by hand. Ideally, I like to buy them from the maker’s hands directly at a farm or farmers’ market. I also have a thing for hand-made knives and cheese boards. Maybe this is because I am a passionate scribbler and also the daughter of a violinist, so I believe in the power of things that are held, thumbed, toggled, and touched.
About an hour outside of Philadelphia, there is a woodworker and designer named John Luttman who makes beautiful hand-carved cheese boards, among other things. He’s been at it since 1983, when he arrived in Phoenixville with “a truck, some tools, and my dog, Curry!” Artifaqt, his studio and show room, is located right on Phoenixville’s Main Street.
John’s eye for shape, color, and texture energizes my cheese brain. A couple weeks ago, I visited his studio and picked up some samples which have become like a set of dominos on my coffee table. I like to mix and match them, with or without cheese.
To me, their velvety surfaces and unique shapes provide the sort of theatrical staging that a hand-crafted cheese display deserves. (Cue the satin curtains, the smoke machine!)
If you like what you see, check out Artifaqt’s online shop or visit John in person (Psst…John is offering a discount to MF readers; details at the end of this post). You’ll find a warren of workshops he has built for wood, metal, and stone — all occupied by local artisans he employs from the community.
Most recently, John has collaborated with Chef Eric Ripert to create a set of serveware for Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York, including a special charcuterie tower that revolves on a turntable. He’s also created custom boards for Chef Jose Garces and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Below are a few of my favorite cheese objects, including a banana-leaf inspired baguette board and a set of truly tiny cheese boards for bite-sized love affairs.
Questions for John Luttman
~Where are you from and why did you settle in Phoenixville, PA?
I grew up on the other side of Valley Forge National Park and came to Phoenixville from a series of short term workspaces in the area after a year at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts.
~Who taught you about woodworking?
My mentor was Karöl Pacanovsky. Karöl was born at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and did his apprenticeship in Vienna. Karöl was 85 when we met, and his everlasting impression on me was I had all I needed to teach myself.
~You’ve passed the tradition on to your son, who works with you?
Early on, I built a diverse staff with skills useful and eventually beneficial to my business interests in those days. We learned from each other as we moved into new materials and methods. Today’s evolution is being developed around young people in their 20’s with strong work ethic and work interest. Young people with a strong set of current skills only get better as they unlock their potential. One is my oldest son Dane. Dane is 27 and has worked with me since his early teens.
Joining us, when he graduates from Rochester Institute of Technology next spring, is Tom Nelson, a furniture design major. The three of us work so well together sharing skills and tasks as we work in small batch production. Our way is to rotate through each step, whether metal or wood so the moment is always fresh.
~On sourcing wood for your boards: you use a lot of Pennsylvania hard woods. Are all of your boards sourced from wood in PA?
We source from two one-man sawmills just north of our studios in Montgomery County, PA. This fall we will be heading west to the Allegheny Mountains of western PA to pick up a truck load of hand selected hardwoods from a large family run sawmill. As they grade their lumber, they pull the extraordinary boards aside for us. I told them the horizon is coming closer for me so I can only afford to work the finest wood available. They source mostly from PA ( Penns Woods! ) but also from Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan.
~You mentioned a connection to Longwood Gardens — did I understand correctly that they give you wood from felled trees?
In Longwood’s words: “Entertain among the trees of Longwood Gardens in your own home. Every piece of our Treeware Collection is carved and crafted by attentive hands using the reclaimed wood of fallen legacy trees from our Forest. Longwood Gardens teamed up with local artisans, Artifaqt, to make these exclusive kitchen and home accessories.”
Artifaqt Discount for Madame Fromage Readers
- Mention “Madame Fromage” for a 10% discount.
- Mention “Madame Fromage” and the name of a PA cheesemaker for a 15% discount.
- Discount applies to online orders and store visits.