How Cheese Gal attracted superstar clients — and 85,000 Instagram followers — in a pandemic

Tim McGraw, Kacey Musgraves and supermodel Lily Aldridge all order custom charcuterie boards from Cortney LaCorte, who grew up pretending (and hoping) to be Martha Stewart

Brad Schmitt
Nashville Tennessean

Call it cheesy, but Nashville mom Cortney LaCorte can thank a Christian/pop star for launching her popular custom charcuterie business.

It happened two years ago on a morning when LaCorte's musician husband was out of town and their 1-year-old was throwing a tantrum.

Her cellphone rang in the middle of her kid's meltdown.

Unknown number. 

LaCorte usually lets those calls go to voicemail. But she answered this one.

Cortney LaCorte, owner of the Cheese Gal, is pictured in her shop in the Fairlane Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in downtown Nashville, Tenn.

"Hi, my name's Mary," the caller said, "and we have mutual friends. I was sent a pic of one of your cheeseboards."

Turns out the caller worked with singer/songwriter Lauren Daigle, who had a concert coming up four days later at the Ryman. Management wanted a cheeseboard for the green room for 30 people.

LaCorte's heart started racing. 

"OK, I'll do it!" she practically shouted into the phone.

Then LaCorte's mind started racing – she loved making cheeseboards at home, but never sold one. What should she put on it? What should she use for the board itself? How much should she spend? How much should she charge? Daigle's a big deal. The Ryman's a big deal. Is this it? Is this her chance to go pro?

A charcuterie board created by Cortney LaCorte, owner of the Cheese Gal, sits on display in her shop in the Fairlane Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in downtown Nashville, Tenn.

After freaking out for a few minutes, LaCorte called her Nashville influencer buddy Shannon Ford, who agreed it was the perfect time for LaCorte to launch a business.

They met that night at the Tin Roof bar near Music Row and started scribbling business name ideas on cocktail napkins. "The worst one," LaCorte said, laughing, "was Nashville Cheese Lady."

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But it led to the name Nashville Cheese Gal, which was shortened to just Cheese Gal – a brand that skyrocketed in the middle of a pandemic. 

LaCorte now has celebrity clients including country stars Tim McGraw and Kacey Musgraves and supermodel Lily Aldridge. She has a high-profile space in the downtown Fairlane Hotel. She has more business than she can handle.

And LaCorte has her own trove of Instagram followers, 85,000 of them.

A mini Martha Stewart

That comes as no surprise to those who've known LaCorte a long time.

She grew up in Dallas half Italian, half Hispanic, scarfing down anchovies, sardines, "real cheese," homemade pasta and tortillas since she can remember. 

"I've always loved the good stuff," said LaCorte, 32.

And she always loved TV chefs, including Martha Stewart and Julia Childs, watching their shows religiously. At age 5, LaCorte went into the kitchen, grabbed an imaginary microphone and played to imaginary cameras as she mimicked Stewart.

"I've always been a bit of a ham," LaCorte said. (Ham? A charcuterie pun? Don't know.)

Cortney LaCorte as a girl with her godmother, Kar Garfield

At 15, LaCorte started making cheese boards with her godmother, Kar Garfield, one of her mom's best friends, a classy woman who always loved entertaining.

LaCorte asked Garfield the secret of being a great host. 

The answer: "Take something delicious and make it look really pretty."

The two created a tray of mozzarella cheese, prosciutto ham, crackers, olives, sliced baguettes and grapes.

LaCorte made cheese boards for relatives and friends, and eventually for friends' weddings.

She got married to musician/songwriter Chris LaCorte (Sam Hunt's "Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90's"), and moved with him to Nashville in 2013.

They had a baby in 2018, and LaCorte's cheeseboard making went into high gear.

"My daughter was 6 months old. My husband was on tour playing guitar for country artists. And I was essentially a stay at home mom, feeling uninspired," she said.

"I was going through a period of time where I felt I didn’t have anything going on besides being someone’s mother and someone's wife. I wanted something for me."

A few months later, LaCorte got the call from Daigle's camp. That's when LaCorte and her influencer friend Ford grabbed the Instagram handle @cheesegal.

Baby Ina Garten

That first board cost LaCorte about $300 to make. She charged $200 hoping it would lead to more business.

The gamble paid off. Today, LaCorte charges $1,100 for the same board.

She built her business through word of mouth, celebrity shout outs and an endless stream of pictures of beautiful charcuterie boards on social media. 

Daigle led to other Christian artists and they led to singer/songwriter/fashionista Holly Williams who led to Chris Stapleton, then Little Big Town, then Musgraves and then McGraw.

Shania Twain, Kings of Leon and Miranda Lambert also have ordered from Cheese Gal. 

Cortney LaCorte, owner of the Cheese Gal, is pictured in her shop in the Fairlane Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in downtown Nashville, Tenn.

In the beginning, LaCorte made 10 to 15 boards a day at home and delivered them herself with her child in the backseat.

Today she makes her boards in the lobby of the downtown Fairlane Hotel and contracts with a delivery service.

LaCorte gets wholesale prices from boutique cheese makers and meat distributors from around the country.

Her biggest board so far was 16 feet by 2 feet. The charge: $5,200.

And her daughter, Charlotte, is following in mom's footsteps.

Four-year-old Charlotte loves watching TV chef Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa" show.  A video of Charlotte in an Ina Garten Halloween costume got more than a half million page views. And @babyinagarten now has her own Instagram page.

"Some people recognize her when we go out," LaCorte said, laughing. "This has been an amazing ride."

Reach Brad Schmitt at or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.