Cigar aficionados know some things are best when they’re handmade. I’m smoking one of them now!
A handmade approach is especially important when it comes to delicately cured artisanal meats like prosciutto. Just pork, salt and a little massaging. By hand. So, why would you put a motorized blade to a fine and very expensive product that is best experienced in paper-thin, nearly transparent slices? The Berkel Heritage Prosciutto Slicer proves you don’t have to, you shouldn’t and you will be happier for it if you don’t.
The slicer is the brainchild of Welhelmus Adrianus Van Berkel, a nineteenth-century Dutch butcher with a passion for mechanics. Carving meats with a knife was a lot of work. Van Berkel combined two simple ideas: a concave blade that precisely reproduced the movement of a hand and knife; and a mobile plate that slid towards the blade. Hand-turning a wheel powered the slicer.
The slicer, now made in the U.S., comes in two models, the 300M ($7,000 and 70 lbs.) with a 12-inch blade, and the larger 330M with a 13-incher ($10,000 and 140 lbs.). Both are made of stainless steel and anodized aluminum. A stand goes for about $1,700, but the slicer can be used on a countertop. If I just move the espresso machine to the right a little . . .
At SD 26, a contemporary Italian restaurant in New York City, there are five Berkels at work slicing salumi (Italian cured meats).
“I think they’re amazing. A Rolls Royce,” gushes the eatery’s general manager John Fanning. “The fact that this can manually cut the prosciutto so thin you can read through it is just amazing. With a motorized slicer, you’re clobbering it to death.”
Another advantage of the manual slicer is that the blade does not heat the meat as it is being sliced. With a motorized slicer, the blade turns so fast that the prosciutto, particularly the flavorful fat, can become too hot. Hot fat? No thank you.
“Turning the wheel by hand allows our salumi to be cut paper-thin without heating it up and damaging the flavor,” explains Tony Gemignani, world pizza champion and San Francisco-area restaurant owner, calling the slicer “one of my most important pieces of equipment. Once you’ve used a hand-crank Berkel, it’s hard to go back to an electric.”
Maybe if I put the toaster on TOP of the espresso machine?