BACK TO THE CHOPPING BOARD
As artisinal bread becomes more and more popular, having beautifully crafted boards to serve them becomes a must ...
Gone are the days when a bread or chopping board was a somewhat tatty necessity that you stashed in the cupboard or propped behind the kitchen taps after use.
Nowadays, breadboards are far more than necessities and the wooden ones, in particular, are becoming everything from the original
preparation tools to nifty ways of serving up meals and displaying everything from sambals to chutneys, cheeses and pickles.
Because of the beauty of wood and its grain, together with the skill and imagination of the many crafters who are turning them into masterpieces, breadboards are also now doubling up as beautiful decorative pieces in the kitchen.
As the farm house vibe is coming back into fashion, breadboards are making their way on to more and more tables along with wooden utensils such as salad servers and even wooden handles for pots and casserole dishes.
But this is far more than a décor fad or a return to all things authentic (out with plastic and in with biodegradable alternatives).
TOP OF THE CHOPS
These days, a lot more is now known about what type of board is better suited to the type of food being chopped. In days gone by, wooden boards had a bad name for potentially harbouring a whole lot of nasty bacteria that could contaminate the food that we are preparing.
Hence the turn to plastic, melamine and other man made materials.
The bad news is that, when not washed and properly cared for, all boards can potentially be homes for unwelcome bugs. Unlike
plastic boards – which are often used long after their sell by dates – wooden boards can be sanded and smoothed to reduce the potential hang outs for nasties. Plus, some woods are even capable of killing micro-organisms and bacteria.
Although they need a little bit more care, there are some very practical reasons for buying a wooden board. They are durable, so last a long time. Wood is hard, but still soft enough so your knives don’t become blunt quickly.
That’s probably why classic wood boards are still very much in demand – and the reason why the boards that are now being made are anything but your typical old chunk of wood.
They come in a wide variety of shapes, designs and colours – from the thick butcher block to the more basic square board. Then there are those shaped like paddles (originally used to serve pizza) and even wooden boards with metal handles or holes into which ramekins or small bowls can be manoeuvred for serving. There’s rectangular, oblong, round…. you name it.
You can buy quite a variety of wooden boards in supermarkets these days as well as at home décor and craft stores and delicatessens. But there are a few things that you should watch out for when shopping – most importantly, wooden boards should be oiled and not varnished or sealed. The latter are potentially toxic petro chemical based products which do not go with food.
Try to buy boards with no flaws in the wood as the flawed ones tend to break or crack quicker. Boards made from harder woods rather than softer ones (such as basic pine) have greater longevity.
Also, even if the price is slightly higher, go for thicker boards as these can be re-sanded and oiled as you use them and will practically last forever.
A SMALL PRICE TO PAY
So, yes, although wooden boards are more expensive, there are good reasons for this. The more expensive hardboards are usually made from exotic woods which are pricier and seldom grown locally. Boards that come with beautiful patterning and inlays as well as carved decorations need more man hours to make which adds to the price tag but recognises the skill of the carpenter.
Whether boards are made from end or edge grain is another reason for differences in price. This
hinges on the actual direction of the grain of the wood. End grain is the cut that runs perpendicular to the growth of the tree (lengthways) while edge grain is cut parallel to the growth of the tree (across).
End grain is more expensive as it involves more machine work – but the end result is far longer lasting. Edge grain is far easier to machine to achieve the desired finish and therefore can be purchased at a more modest price.
KEEPING THINGS ABOVE BOARD
After your board has left the hands of the wood worker, how they look and function is pretty much up to you.
So, here are some tips for keeping them at their best:
Don’t put them in the dishwasher. You’ll ultimately end up with something that looks far more like drift wood. Instead, gently wash your wooden boards in warm soapy water and rinse. Don’t leave them to soak. After washing, stand a board upright with airflow all around so it dries properly. If you hook your board behind your taps to dry, make sure that one end is not languishing in the run-off water that collects along the bottom. After a short while, lift it, dry behind your taps and then turn your board so that the side on the counter top is now uppermost.
Oil your boards regularly. This helps to protect the wood and makes it last longer whilst also protecting your board from stains. Food grain mineral oil will do the trick. After applying the oil, use a paper towel to absorb any excess.
How often you need to oil your board depends on how often it is used and washed. If it starts looking a bit dull, then it’s time to polish it.
Sand your boards. One of the joys of owning a wooden chopping board is that, even if you scratch the surface, you can sand it and it will be a good as new as soon as a touch of oil is applied.
After saying so much about the beauty and usefulness of wooden boards, there is also a lot to be said for plastic boards. In fact, a lot of people opt to have both plastic and wooden boards.
Plastic is light, dishwasher safe and easier to clean and often makes for a great vegetable prep board, especially when you are slicing and dicing things like onions and beetroot. They are also probably best for cutting raw meats, chicken and fish as they can be easily sanitised either in a dishwasher or by hand.
But always remember that plastic – especially hard plastics – can wear down knives faster, so you will be sharpening or replacing your knives more often. Plastic also gets brittle and you will have to toss out boards with grooves and damage as they are difficult to keep clean.
CHOP AND CHANGE
These days, the millennial trend is to use wooden boards as servers or platters for some quintessential fancy meals.
We all know that a beautiful wooden board with a long crusty loaf and accompanying breadknife can make a lovely table centre piece (especially when accompanied by a hearty soup) or look great amidst braai meats and salads. However, as many restaurants have proven, they are also good
substitutes for plates and, if you are worried about damaging your board, a simple square of grease proof paper should do the trick and make cleaning easier.
Alternatively, use longer boards as platters. They are great for displaying cold meats and cheeses and even for serving up sushi (that you’ve brought home in boxes from the local take out). Paddle shaped boards are an ideal means of serving up a tapas meal.
A display of beautiful chocolates and small bite sized pastries on a wooden board is also a lovely way of rounding off a meal or even a braai.
… and, after all that, there’s little more to say other than Bon Appetit!
We borrowed the truly beautiful creations of Tony Bottomley for our photographs. If you are interested in purchasing one of his boards, you can contact him at email@example.com