When Ali Eck describes her idyllic childhood summers in Austria’s Styria region, the adventures of Fraulein Maria and the von Trapp children come to mind. One can imagine that the bread, cheeses and meats of “the green heart of Austria” Eck describes could have easily ended up in picnic baskets Maria and her young charges lugged through the mountain meadows on their romps. Luckily, for Cape Coral-area diners, Eck’s Grazing Haus provides the same bountiful approach to snacking that the Austrians have enjoyed for years.
While abroad, Eck abided by the daily ritual of indulging in a heavy lunch, followed by a light dinner, often enjoying an evening plate—called jausen in the local dialect—piled high with snacks. “We were in this agricultural region of Austria and so influenced by the fruits of the land,” Eck says. “We had beautiful mountains, family time and high-quality food produced by local artisans.” Not only did her family enjoy the abundance of local farms and vendors, but they also sold their products to residents and passersby.
For the past 63 years, Eck’s grandfather, a butcher, and his wife have run a deli and tavern. Because they were unable to leave their business for extended vacations to the U.S., Eck’s parents dispatched her and her sister (who were born and raised in Fort Myers) to Austria to slice, package and pour, often adding her family’s handmade meats to local dinner plates.
The concept of a light, grazing plate for dinner is no longer restricted to the Austrian heartland. Nowadays, there isn’t a soul who isn’t familiar with Instagram-worthy charcuterie boards. The best hosts serve luscious double-crème cheeses alongside furled prosciutto and thinly sliced apples fanned out like a deck of cards, with a cascade of oil-slicked Marcona almonds spilling across the platter. Style demands nothing stands alone, each component nestled next to another, creating a cornucopia-like effect.
Eck recognized that the trend was very much like the jausen she’d grown up with. She left the corporate world in November to launch Grazing Haus, a dine-out service that provides high-quality meats, cheeses, condiments and accoutrements in photo-ready snack boxes and platters. Customers can place orders online for pickup at the Cape Coral kitchen or delivery within a 10-mile radius. Hosts can avail themselves of Grazing Haus’ full-table setups at home, and Eck plans to open a Cape Coral grazing shop this year.
There’s no better way to encourage mingling than with a grazing party, Eck says. After all, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a new acquaintance when you’re both snacking from the same cluster of grapes. “With it being so aesthetically pleasing, it’s a great talking point, and maybe it starts a new friendship,” she says.
No matter the size, the principles behind each box, board or table are the same. Every order is packed by Eck, who incorporates seasonal ingredients whenever possible. (Look for wintery persimmons and candied cranberries around the holidays.) And while the dining might feel casual, there’s nothing simple about the arranging, which requires the same artistic eye as a floral arrangement. Those who want to learn to prepare their own charcuterie boards can do so during one of Eck’s classes. “It’s taken me two years to hone my artistic style, but it’s not rocket science,” she says. “I’m here to help you learn tips, tricks and new ways to plate.”
Even as Grazing Haus grows, Eck plans to continue highlighting local partners, including Naples Canning Co. and mobile florist Sol Flowers. She also includes products from companies to which she has a personal connection or that have compelling backstories, including cheeses from Sweetgrass Dairy, located in Thomasville, Georgia, where she vacationed growing up, and from California’s Cypress Grove, which was founded by a single mom working with two goats. After all, the spirit of jausen is a little of this and that, but all of it is carefully curated from the best at hand.