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The thickness of a slice


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 07:17 PM

It's amazing to me how much of a difference the thickness of slices of meat, cheese and vegetables makes to the eating experience. It's even more amazing to me how little attention people -- both sellers and buyers -- pay to it.

In particular, I'm thinking about things sliced on the deli slice, like when you go to the supermarket deli counter and get half a pound of sliced cheese, or salami. Or, when you order a sandwich at a standard-issue deli where they slice everything (including the tomatoes and lettuce) with the deli slicer.

It seems to me that for each product there's an optimal thickness. For example, if you slice the average deli salami paper-thin and stack up a bunch of slices, they all kind of meld together into a gloppy mound. If you slice it too thick, it's a similar effect. But if you slice it just right -- just a little thicker than thin -- each piece has integrity and things work out. Most cheese seems to be better sliced a little thinner than meat. (I won't go into a digression about how most delis put too much meat and too little cheese on a sandwich -- that's another topic).

Anyway, as I was saying, I'm amazed how many people just accept stuff from delis however the deli slices it. The machines all have adjustment knobs. You can demand thicker or thinner slices. If I'm buying a pound of something, I'll ask for a slice first and then say thicker or thinner. If I forget to do it, or someone else does the shopping, the eating experience is never as satisfying.
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#2 Knicke

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 08:12 PM

I used to work in a supermarket deli. I would say that 90% of patrons were, as you note, fairly cavalier about the thickness of the slices. My guess is that they didn't care, or equally likely, they were often in too much of a hurry to figure out what they wanted. The other 10% were inevitably older or elderly folks, and they were extremely specific about the thickness they desired.

Just corroborating your observations.
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#3 BarbaraY

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 08:26 PM

Just try to get a piece of proscuitto or pancetta that isn't paper thin around here. I like it cut a bit thicker when I'm using it in a pasta but it takes several cuts before they get it right.
Yep! I'm one of those "older" people and have time to wait for what I want.:biggrin:

#4 srhcb

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 08:45 PM

I hadn't thought about this until I read this thread.

Dave, my One-Eyed, Left-Handed, Former Rodeo Bull-Riding Butcher, (retired), used to occassionally invite me behind his counter to show me something in the walk-in or a new piece of equipment.

Once I noticed that he had pieces of masking tape marked with little + and - signs on the shelves holding the deli meats and cheeses. When asked he explained that these marks corresponded to adjustments on his slicer(s) to cut thicker or thinner than his default setting.

Every item in the case had an optimal thickness. Dave developed his settings over 35+ years in the business. Hard salami was sliced very thin, smoked turkey breast thick. Hard cheeses had to be cut so the slices wouldn't crumble and soft cheeses so the slices wouldn't melt together.

The marks on the tape was so the young guys who worked the later shift would know how to set the slicers.

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#5 K8memphis

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 08:54 PM

How interesting. Since I was a girl sent on an errand to the store I've always requested a certain thickness of our deli meats. Mom didn't care how we got it sliced. I always did. So the real question is does that make me cool or elderly?

#6 tejon

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 11:07 PM

How interesting. Since I was a girl sent on an errand to the store I've always requested a certain thickness of our deli meats. Mom didn't care how we got it sliced. I always did. So the real question is does that make me cool or elderly?

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Cool, of course.

(says she who also checks slice thickness and is not elderly quite yet)
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#7 sanrensho

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 11:34 PM

I always order my deli meats (except for bacon) sliced thin. We end up buying most of our deli meats from a supermarket chain that actually has a decent selection, but I deplore the standard thickness of their cold cuts. I do notice that non-chain delis tend to consistently cut their meats thinner, so I can only conclude that the chains are trying to push thicker cuts to sell more volume.

IMO, thinner slices make for a better sandwich presentation and, well, mouthfeel. Also, a good way to get just the right amount of meat in your sammie.

I also don't fall into the elderly demographic.

Edited by sanrensho, 24 April 2007 - 11:35 PM.

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#8 docsconz

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 04:45 AM

The best slice thickness depends on what is being sliced. For example I love Boar's Head ham sliced very thin. Roast beef needs to be sliced a little thicker. BH bologna is less sensitive to slice thickness though I prefer a little thinner. Turkey I like a little thicker and as for cheese the only deli cheese I buy is Cooper's Sharp, which I prefer slightly thicker. Now a related issue is individual wrapping or lack thereof of certain products. :wink:
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#9 Varmint

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 05:51 AM

Now a related issue is individual wrapping or lack thereof of certain products. :wink:

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Actually, I think this is very important, Doc. My local Whole Foods does a great job with this, as they'll slice several pieces of meat, and then separate them with that thin tissue-like paper from the next several slices. They keep doing this so that at most you'll only have four or five slices that stick together. They also tare the scales based on the amount of paper they use, so it all works out. I used to see them do this only when they sliced the prosciutto paper-thin, but they do it with my thicker turkey, too. I love it!
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#10 scubadoo97

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 06:02 AM

It's amazing to me how much of a difference the thickness of slices of meat, cheese and vegetables makes to the eating experience.


Steven I agree completely. At my local supermarket they are pretty good about asking you how you want it sliced and giving you the first slice to sample. My obervation has been people are much more concerned when you ask them how they want it. The extra time it takes can often lead to longer lines at the deli counter. My only peeve is with turkey breast that is sliced thin. I hate it when it falls apart and shreds as you try to separate the layers to make a sandwich.

#11 rooftop1000

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 06:27 AM

20 years I had to listen to the thicker - no thinner - noooo thinner
kill em all

just kidding

but cutting for a sandwich is different than cutting to wrap, lets say on the right setting 1/4 pound of Boars Head Ham or Turkey should be 7 slices

for wrapping ... I went a touch thicker if there was no request,
round items (bologna-salami) would get layed on the paper one to the left one to the right just slightly overlapping in the middle
prosciutto got shingled on tissue
ham turkey and RB just stacked
square things stacked with a "twist"


I really dont eat cold cuts anymore

tracey
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#12 weinoo

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 07:27 AM

Agree with your observations, FG, but since I get most, if not all, of my deli meats at DiPaolo's, I never have to worry!! :laugh:
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#13 JohnL

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 08:08 AM

Most deli's don't know how to construct a good sandwich let alone slice the meat and cheese to the proper thickness.
One area is in layering the items. All too often cheese is placed on top of or under tomato slices. The acid in the tomato actually starts to melt the cheese.

meats and cheeses need to be layered in order and there needs to be some "air" in sandwiches.

FG is correct--too often cheese is sliced way too thick or too many thin slices are layered on top of one another which meld together into a too thick slice.

Stronger meats like assertive salumi need to be sliced thinner and more "blander"meats like baloney or less assertive salumi a bit thicker.

#14 Lilija

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 09:56 AM

20 years I had to listen to the thicker - no thinner - noooo thinner
kill em all

just kidding

but cutting for a sandwich is different than cutting to wrap, lets say on the right setting  1/4 pound of Boars Head Ham or Turkey should be 7 slices

for wrapping ... I went a touch thicker if there was no request,
round items (bologna-salami) would get layed on the paper one to the left one to the right just slightly overlapping in the middle
prosciutto got shingled on tissue
ham turkey and RB just stacked
square things stacked with a "twist"


I really dont eat cold cuts anymore

tracey

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Oh, that brings back all kinds of memories! I too used to be a deli girl. I put most of my time in at a hoppin deli/sandwich shop, and sandwich slicing is VERY different from the stuff you cut to pack up. People like the meat on their subs shredded and piled loosely, around here. Except salami, which is thin enough to read through, and feathered around lightly on a sandwich. Cheese gets sliced thick-ish for sandwiches, but thin and sorta step-layered on the tissue. Liverwurst was always super thick slices, tiled and seperated into groups of 4.

In my experience, maybe it was because of the places I worked, (grocery store in an upscale neighborhood, or a mom'n'pop), but people were mostly picky about how you sliced it. It was a habit to slice one piece, and hold it up for inspection, or give them the first slice as a sample. People are the most picky, I found, about roast beef, and bologna. Some people like it thick, so you can roll it into a sturdy structure, some people like it all but shredded (some people like it shredded, even).

But yeah, I had to deal with a lot of fussy customers. It's easy if you just get the hang of what the thicknesses look like, what's popular, and to remember to ask ahead of time. Nothing like the customer who orders 1/4 lb each of 19 different varieties of meats and cheeses, requires an inspection of each one, before, after, and during the slicing, during the lunch rush, while the line is wrapping around the outside of the building.

#15 Kent Wang

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 11:15 AM

There should be a standardized system to describe thickness. Some places have the Boar's Head guide to thickness but it does not offer enough options on the thin end of the scale. Millimeter is a good measurement but few charcuteriers (or simply deli workers, as few deserve that title) in America have a good grasp of how much a millimeter is.

#16 Malawry

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 11:23 AM

Some supermarkets have those thickness guides, like Wegman's, but I find them all but useless. The images on the sign just don't match up to something logical like the number setting on the meat slicer.

I used to work in a deli-bakery too, and almost everybody would ask for "shaved" or "thin, but not quite shaved." I think few meats or cheeses benefit from such thinness, personally.

#17 rooftop1000

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 11:50 AM

There should be a standardized system to describe thickness. Some places have the Boar's Head guide to thickness but it does not offer enough options on the thin end of the scale. Millimeter is a good measurement but few charcuteriers (or simply deli workers, as few deserve that title) in America have a good grasp of how much a millimeter is.

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Then there is the differences in the brand or model of slicers, a #3 on a Fleetwood is very different than a #3 on a Hobart

a milimeter is 1/25th of an inch - but the look on a co-workers face when someone ordered 100 grams of meat was priceless....deli scales measure 1 pound as 100 so if someone orderes 6 ounces the employee needs to know that that is app .36 on the scale because of course 16oz goes into 1.00 pound 6 times carry the 4 which ultimately means that 100 grams is .20 on the deli scale

carry on

tracey

cool no one noticed I got the math wrong

Edited by rooftop1000, 26 April 2007 - 05:28 AM.

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#18 MarketStEl

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 01:33 PM

I never ask to have liverwurst sliced at the deli counter. I always request it in a chunk and slice it with a cheese slicer (NOT planer) at home.

You can't slice liverwurst thin enough on a commercial slicer; the friction against the rotating blade will cause the slices to fall apart or mush up. (Or maybe it's that most people aren't skilled enough to do it.) You can with a cheese slicer.

I think that liverwurst also tastes better sliced thin, if you haven't figured that out already.

I usually don't specify thickness when ordering deli meats. The Amish deli I frequently patronize in the Reading Terminal Market sells everything pre-sliced, and except for their shaved ham and corned beef, everything is of a uniform thickness, and that thickness is a little thicker than I'd like for cheeses and just about right for Lebanon bologna.
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#19 snowangel

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 02:17 PM

Don't even get me going on the thickness of bacon. Supermarket thin is too thin, and thick is too thick. Too thin, and it's like tissue. Too thick, and it is not bacon, but fried smoked pork. If I don't make my own bacon, but purchase it from a local smoker (never a supermarket!), I won't buy it if they won't slice it to order. Half way in between supermarket thin and thick is just about right.

I now have my very own meat slicer, so I can do thinner for Peter's sandwiches and that perfect balance of thin/thick for the rest of us.
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#20 moosnsqrl

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Posted 25 April 2007 - 04:39 PM

There must be something in the air - we just had a lengthy conversation on this topic Sunday. We had various Italian meats and they were all sliced what I would call "Italian-American Nonna" thin. You could almost read through them and I believe intended to be very tightly rolled for an antipasto (the more tightly rolled, the better in the circles I've been in but I don't know if that's a universal point of pride or unique to midwestern Italian-Americans?). Since the S.O. hadn't planned to use them that way, it didn't really work well for him. But then I used it to make some sandwiches for the baseball game the other night and, scattered about with other ingredients, they all worked well together.

I always want to ask for an "etto" of this and that but it only works at real Italian delis. Everywhere else they look at you kinda like the 100-gram customer in Tracey's post upthread.
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#21 Luckylies

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Posted 26 April 2007 - 04:18 AM

oy. Don't get me started on this one. I'm seriously an old lady in this regard. It drives me CRAZY when I order proscutto or smoked salmon (for delivery at work) and someone is being lazy (usually because I've ordered a lot) and they cut the whole thing thick. Wroar!!!!! it makes me so crazy!

Who eats thickly sliced smoked salmon? proscutto?

Thick proscutto is like boot leather! (I understand for cooking)

I guess salmon is more passable...

I'm in a tizzy, I shouldn't have started....
does this come in pork?

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#22 rooftop1000

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Posted 26 April 2007 - 05:32 AM

Some delis will take the Genoa salami and cut the whole piece in half when they open it...some cut straight some on a steep angle, which makes each slice elongated rather than round.

Anyone even notice this or have an opinion on which slice is better/preferred.


T
The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers
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#23 ghostrider

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Posted 26 April 2007 - 07:00 AM

Some delis will take the Genoa salami and cut the whole piece in half when they open it...some cut straight some on a steep angle, which makes each slice elongated rather than round.

Anyone even notice this or have an opinion on which slice is better/preferred.


T

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At the old-school Italian deli where I work, they go for the angled / elongated approach. Probably because they are building sandwiches on long rolls or 1/2 loaves of Italian bread. And trust me, these guys know how to build a sandwich.
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