WHAT IS A SOLID OAK BOARD?
95% of the food boards that we produce at O&F are solid oak board – from one piece of wood. Many boards on the market are made up from many smaller pieces that are glued together. This is not how we prefer to work.
Oak&Ford boards are all cut form Prime grade 1 American white oak. Prime grade 1 is the best quality Oak that is available to buy; it is mainly free form knots, splits and defects. By using this premium material it helps us ensure that the boards are the best available on the market here in the UK in terms of hygiene, strength and longevity of use in service environments.
It is a natural product though so things do come up. In any production run we have our eyes peeled and are always on the lookout for any defects that would compromise the quality of our product. This will not meet our standards and we remove any areas from a plank that we are not 100% happy with; this can be anywhere from 10-15% of the material ordered in. We tend to over order by 20% to allow for this, ensuring we are not left short on a job and the quality is how we like it.
There are quite a few popular species used to produce food boards which are available here in the UK. A lot of the mass-produced boards that are sold as an off the shelf option are produced from Bamboo, Acacia and Beech, all of which are largely suitable and fit for purpose. However, none of them have the beautiful characteristics of oak.
We only really use oak for our food boards unless we have a customer that specifies beech or another sustainable, suitable alternative to suit their brief.
Oak is part of our name for a reason. Over centuries, oak has proved itself to be one of the most versatile and beautiful woods that grows on this amazing planet, in my opinion. Some of this is down to its interlocking grain. If you ever look at a big old oak beam and see the shakes running through it, you might wonder how it does not break on a split. Well to start with, in oak a split is called a shake and it is the interlocking grain that enables it to do this without breaking. This feature makes it unbeatably strong. If it was pine then it would simply just break along said shake. Then there is the beauty of the grain and this just is!
It is my favourite wood and is regarded to be a truly high quality material, which is why it is so good for boards. It helps present your products in a beautiful way which, in my eyes. is what it is all about. Additionally, it is also strong to last really well in a service environment with very little care and maintenance required.
WHAT ABOUT LAMINATED STOCK?
Laminated stock is a very common material to use for the mass production of boards and there are a few reasons for this. Laminated board is produced by gluing lots of smaller sections together to produce a larger panel, which is a cheaper alternative than using one solid plank. The smaller sections are usually off cuts form other large-scale production facilities. It is also a way to use poor quality material; by cutting it out and then gluing it back together.
Lamination can be a great process, particularly in thicker material. It is quite common and perfectly usable when producing large items such as table tops and solid wood signage, where you simply cannot get a piece of wood big enough.
SOLID VS LAMINATED STOCK
We only ever really use solid stock to produce our food boards unless it’s a big wide display slab at say 60cm’s. In this case we would laminate three 20cm sections together to produce the section. When we do this, we use a jointing dowel where the two faces meet to add extra strength to the joint. On smaller thinner board like the ones used for mass produced boards, this is not done; they are just glued together. Over time, although more quickly in a warm moist environment such as a commercial kitchen, they will start to de-laminate.
Over time a solid board may cup a little but it will still be usable. A de-laminated board with a big split in is not food safe by anyone’s standards and is the ideal place for bacteria to hang out and breed. This is one of the main reasons we only recommend solid one-piece boards and will never look to move away from this.
HARDWOOD OVER SOFTWOOD
Hardwood is the only option when it comes to material choice for food boards. Oak, beech, acacia and bamboo are all hard woods and that is why they are the four most commonly used species for these types of products. They are very hard wearing, have very close tight grain patterns and are not highly resinous which means once they are seasoned they will not ooze sap from their surfaces; something you do not want next to your signature dish!
Softwood is just that and is the opposite of everything stated above. It has very open grain which means it will not stand up to being cut on by a knife and fork. It is highly resinous, which means when it gets warm it will bleed sap and it just doesn’t look that nice. All food boards should be made from a hardwood such as oak or beech.
BAMBOO, BEECH AND ACACIA
Products made from these species are readily available on the market from many sources. These tend to be lower price point boards that are available in many set sizes. They are mass produced in a large-scale factory in huge runs to keep the unit cost to a minimum.
Acacia and Bamboo are two materials we as a business do not offer. This due to where in the world they grow and how ethical they are managed. We as a business, and me as an individual, like to know that we are doing everything we can to reduce the carbon foot print of the business and shipping in these materials would not meet our criteria for sustainability. Also, you cannot really buy these as a raw material in the UK, they come into the country as a finished product having been made, usually in the Far East.
Beech, on the other hand, is a lovely material and we do on occasion make boards form beech when the customer specifies it. It is grown on the continent in well managed forestry schemes and can be equally as good as oak. It is a lot paler than oak, and considerably more dense, but a very good choice none the less.
SOURCING OUR WOOD
I am very proud to say that every plank that comes into the workshop does so from a proven sustainable source. This basically means that all the lumber processed is done so in the correct manner, taking into account each country’s strict rules along with the global guidelines.
Forest management is vital. As trees are removed, new plantations are established to ensure a better planet for the next generation and the one after that.
WOOD OVER PLASTIC BOARDS
I have mentioned this before but it seems just as relevant here. As with everything now, there is incorrect information in the marketplace about the hygiene status of wood kitchen and serving products. It is a common misconception that a plastic or nylon board would be more hygienic than a wooden board, even though this has been proven to be untrue (see link below). This has then fuelled the idea that serving food on wooden boards is either unhygienic or they are difficult to keep clean enough for service – also not true please see the link to our board care post http://oakandford.co.uk/board-care-our-opinion/
Wood is not only a sustainable material, it is proven to be easy maintenance and more hygienic than most surfaces. It is also beautiful and enhances the visual stimulus in an eating experience so let wood make you look good.
Expert Dean O. Cliver, PhD from University of California, Davis, conducted research on the subject of wood versus plastic or nylon boards and found that wood cutting boards contained less salmonella bacteria than plastic. On wood cutting boards, the bacteria sank “down beneath the surface of the cutting board, where they didn’t multiply and eventually died off.” On plastic boards, however, bacteria got caught in knife grooves that were near impossible to clean out, whether the board was washed by hand or dishwasher. So while sparkling new plastic cutting boards might be easy to disinfect, any weathered plastic board will hold onto bacteria.
Opinions expressed are Richard Ford’s