Visit any butcher shop or deli, and you’ll likely encounter a century-old marvel slicing your cold cuts.
In 1898, W. A. Van Berkel, a butcher and novice engineer in Rotterdam of the Netherlands, invented a means to slice more meat to better serve his customers. The result was the world’s first meat-slicing machine. Not only did it change the way slicing was done in his own butcher shop, it revolutionized the way people prepare food all over the world.
Van Berkel’s 1907 patented design was ingenious. When the product is positioned on the carrier, the operator turns a wheel which then turns a set of interlocking gears, creating a back-and-forth motion to provide a continuous movement towards the blade. Simultaneously, a secondary set of gears connects to a shaft attached to a chain that spins the blade. Elegant in its simplicity, collectors consider them functional works of art. This was all before the introduction of motors, but the concept remains the same to this day.
Customers want options too. “How thin do you want it?” is a common question heard across deli counters. A quick turn to adjust the blade and you have a slice as thick as a steak or so thin that light passes through it. Reminds me of the classic Seinfeld moment when Kramer purchases a meat slicer for his personal use.
So this holiday season, if you have a leftover turkey breast or plan to have a ham on the dinner table, rather than carving, consider slicing with a Berkel. It would be quite the conversation piece too. Everybody has a microwave, a coffee-maker and a blender. But which one of your friends can honestly say they have a meat slicer in their kitchen?