Things to know about chopping boards and butcher blocks

19.05.2013 18:07

These are the best: chopping boards and butcher blocks made of end-grained wood 

Butcher blocks made of end-grained wood, which is also called head wood, are particularly solid, firm and hard-wearing. In order to produce a solid chopping board made of end-grained wood, the trunk of the common hornbeam is cut into thick slices and then sawn into individual dice. As in the case of a puzzle, these wooden blocks are set next to each other again before they are neatly glued together. In doing so, it is ensured that the fine annual rings of the tree are visible from atop. Thanks to the resulting shades of the wood, these butcher blocks have an attractively patterned surface. This does not only look magnificent but also makes the butcher blocks much firmer than chopping boards that consist of other materials. As the wood fibres stand upright thanks to this manufacturing method, the small cuts that are caused by sharp knives can easily repair themselves. As a result, the cutting surface of the chopping board will remain beautiful and even for a long time. 
 

The common hornbeam

As the common hornbeam is known for its fair wood, it is also called white beech or iron tree since it has particularly hard and heavy wood that is perfectly suitable for manufacturing chopping boards or butcher blocks. As regards the smooth bark and the shape of the leaves, the common hornbeam looks similar to the common beech although the fruit and the wood differ to a considerable extent. The wood of the common hornbeam is mainly used for two different purposes: thanks to its dense structure, this wood has a high energy value and is often used for heating. Alternatively, it is used for the production of butcher blocks or, as was the case in former times, carpenter tools such as planes and for manufacturing the image stands that printing office required. The dense structure and hardness comes from the evenly built wood that is very finely patterned and hardly shows any annual rings. Contrary to oak or acacia wood, which is often made into boards for carpentry work, the common hornbeam is difficult to saw and split as the structure of the wood is not linear. 
 

Hygiene and cleanliness

The harder and denser the wood that is used in the production of chopping boards and butcher blocks is, the more hygienic your cutting board is. As a result, butcher blocks made of the solid common hornbeam wood are not only extremely durable but also germ-free. Cleaning the cutting board is very easy: just take a wet sponge (maybe with a bit of dish soap) and dry your chopping board after cleaning with a fabric or paper towel. It is also possible to use table vinegar instead of dish soap as it has an antiseptic effect. Once your butcher block is completely dry, you can scrape off its surface with the blade of a large kitchen knife or a scraper - just like expert chefs do. This removes small grooves in the surface of the wood. Wet chopping boards made of wood should stand upright in order to dry thoroughly. This makes it possible for the air to circulate around the chopping board and, as a result, no tensions in the wood arise.
 

Proper care for your butcher block 

Every two to four weeks, the surface of your butcher block gets lighter. When this happens, you just have to rub sunflower oil on the surface of the wood and let it soak in overnight. On the next day, you can wipe the remaining oil with a paper towel. This treatment protects the wood against stains and moisture and gives it a beautiful lustre. Monsieur Gérard, CEO of Billots de Sologne, recommends sunflower oil because of its smooth, odourless and colourless characteristics. In addition, sunflower oil soaks in fast into the wood. As a result, the precious wood is protected from drying up and dullness; it soaks up less moisture and the antibacterial effect of the wood is preserved. Furthermore, the bleached out areas of the wood regain their natural lustre and a warm hue. The butcher blocks must be stored in a dry room at normal temperature and must not be cleaned with water or soaked in it. Under no circumstances must you clean the chopping board or the butcher block in the dish washer. The high temperatures with which dishes are cleaned in the dish washer can considerably damage the wood. As a result, the glue-laminated compounds of the wooden blocks would get loose over time. 
 

The natural and antibacterial surface of the wood

Wood is known for its antibacterial characteristics. Even twenty years ago, the Food Research Institute in Wisconsin, USA, compared a wooden chopping board with a one made of synthetic material and came to the conclusion that wooden chopping boards are much more hygienic. At first, German researchers doubted the results of this study and checked the results by doing their own experiments. However, in the end they had to admit that wood has an inhibiting effect on germs. To this day, it has not completely been proved, neither physically nor chemically, how the antibacterial effect actually works. Researchers think that this is partly due to the hygroscopic effect of the wood. This means that the wood divests bacteria of water which they need for multiplying and surviving. On the other hand, the substances contained in the wood have an antibacterial effect themselves. Research has shown that the test germs were killed on the wood thanks to its antibacterial effect. In contrast, chopping boards made of synthetic material were only germ-poor after being cleaned very thoroughly. 
 

Two chopping boards make sense

In private kitchens, it is also advisable to use at least two chopping boards. While one chopping board is used for cutting smelly food such as fish, you can use the other one to cut fruit, vegetables or meat. Both enthusiastic amateur chefs and expert chefs firmly believe that wood is the best material for chopping boards and butcher blocks.