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Drawn together: the ham de-boning stand

Categories: Behind the stalls

Award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the ham de-boning stand

Words and illustration: Ed Smith

Andrea Orsini, The Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand

I have been working with Philip Crouch at the Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand since March 2015, but I have been involved with food and, in particular, cured meats for almost 30 years now. For a long time I sourced top quality produce for restaurants. I’ve also worked as a chef.

I come from Tuscany, Italy. Pisa, to be precise. We’re a region that’s absolutely devoted to good food and a country that’s fanatical about its produce. Italy is the home of the Slow Food movement, which is something that I’m a firm believer in. Back home I’ve been involved as a speaker at a number of Slow Food events.

The tool that makes most difference to my life at the Market is our de-boning stand. Perhaps it’s not as obvious or glamourous a choice as a traditional hand turned slicer, but the stand is very important to me.

Calm and confident
We receive hams from Italy with the bone still in. This needs to be removed before we can slice the ham and sell it. It’s a tricky thing to do. You need a sharp knife and the meat needs to be held still. You then work very precisely around the bone with the knife. You must be calm and confident, and have to ensure the bone is cut out cleanly without waste or ruining the shape of the ham.

I suppose ideally you would have three hands for this job: one to hold the knife, one to help you guide the knife along the bone and the ‘knuckle’, then another to hold the ham in place. But with the stand, I do not need to use my left hand to hold the ham still, so it’s like a third hand. It helps me remove a bone relatively simply—probably in less than 10 minutes. I do this job five or six times a week, so it’s a real help.

Without a stand, the boning work is difficult, slow and a little dangerous—I’ve injured myself a number of times when working without one.

The stand is invaluable. You could ruin a ham if you do a bad job. It’s definitely my most useful tool— though I also have a chain mail apron and glove which are important for my safety!