CUTLERY, CHINA AND GLASS
Cutlery, China and Glass
Your food and drink deserve the best setting you can give them. Money isn't always the deciding factor.
Large department stores and specialist shops offer such a wonderful selection of cutlery, china and glass that no one could complain that their particular taste isn't catered for. When buying for the first time you must decide whether you will go for something cheap and cheerful to be eventually replaced by a more expensive version or if, from the beginning, you will opt for the very best.
Whether you choose cheap stainless steel or luxurious solid silver cutlery, there are several points you should consider which apply to all cutlery. Always buy from a reputable retailer and look for makes stamped with a well-known brand. Forgery in cutlery is quite common and it could be difficult to match up if you want to add more place settings at a later date. With stainless steel and silver-plated cutlery look for the British Standard Kite mark symbol which means it will meet the standards of quality and durability laid down in BS 5577. Check the pieces for a smooth, blemish-free finish. Satin-finished stainless steel should have a consistent grain. Hold each piece of place setting in your hands to see how comfortable it is and how well balanced. Some cutlery designs look good but are impractical when it comes to eating. Where handles are made from a different material, such as bone or plastic, check that the joins are smooth and well-finished.
Knives should be sharp enough to cut well and 'handle heavy' so that when you put them down on a flat surface the handle keeps the blade clear of it. Press a knife blade to one side to check that it springs back into position.
If you have a dishwasher, ask if the cutlery is dishwasher safe. All metal-handled cutlery is but labels should make this clear anyway. Stainless steel cutlery lasts well, doesn't corrode, keeps its looks and needs no special cleaning. It comes in classic and also more innovative designs. Ordinary washing keeps it clean but an occasional polish with a special stainless-steel cleaner will keep its patina looking its subtle silvery best.
Silver-plated cutlery must be of good quality or constant wear will result in the plating wearing off and showing the metal (usually stainless steel, nickel-silver or brass) underneath. Look for cutlery which conforms to BS 5577. This means it will be plated with at least 20 microns of silver.
Solid silver cutlery should be bought only from the best retailer. It will need regular polishing to keep it looking good. Secondhand silver cutlery can often be found at auctions and in antique shops but you should take a guide to hallmarks and check before buying to be sure that it is indeed solid silver. Silver isn't as durable as stainless steel but if cared for properly can last for centuries. Knife handles are often made from another material-such as ivory-which may mean they can't be put in a dishwasher.
Chrome-plated cutlery is cutlery is cheap, not usually very well designed and doesn't last as long as stainless steel or even silver plate. If you are very hard up it could be something to start with and dispose of when you can afford something better.
Gold and bronze cutlery need a lot of cleaning and aren't really suitable for everyday use.
China, like cutlery, varies from the cheap to the amazingly expensive and, in general, the price will reflect the shape and decoration. Earthenware is the cheapest type but it does chip easily and tends to come in rather thick designs. Stoneware is stronger and bone china is toughest of all-but it costs correspondingly more.
When choosing china think about how it will look with food on the plates-very busy patterns, may completely overwhelm both the recipe and appetite! Also consider how you will store it. Some ranges are designed to be stackable which can be a help where space is limited.
Cheap china is not necessarily nasty; chain stores produce ranges in all sort of designs which are very good value indeed. However, they tend to have a fairly short retail life. It' as well to buy as much as you need and a bit over for breakages since you are unlikely to be able to find replacements later on.
If you are buying china that includes ovenware, check whether or not this will go on top of the cooker as well as in the oven. Think about whether you are going to wash in a dishwasher, in which case the china should be dishwasher safe, and whether you will be putting it in a microwave oven in which case it should not have any metallic trim. Don't go for very expensive china for everyday use. It's bound to get broken. Have a best set if you want but look for seconds, sale bargains or chain store cheapies to cater for most meals.
Really good quality glass is thin, rings when it's tapped and comes in many beautiful designs. It's also very easy to break. Cheap glass can also be well designed, but is sturdy enough to stand up to being knocked around a bit without chipping.
The crystal glass that is used for most fine glassware is usually hand made and expensive. A British Standard and an EEC directive specify a minimum of 24 per cent lead oxide-the very best lead crystal will contain at least 30 per cent. The more lead that there is in glass (a label should state the quantity) the clearer it will be.
Soda lime glass is what most ordinary tumblers are made from. Silica sand, soda ash and limestone are mixed together in varying amounts to produce different degrees of clarity. These glasses are machine made and come in a good range of designs and shapes.
Glass oven-to-table ware is made from borosilicate glass which is very strong, dishwasherproof and heat resistant, although it should not be used on a direct heat source unless this is stated on the label. Such glass is sometimes called 'flameproof'.
Planning For Effect
When deciding on cutlery, china and glass it's obviously vitally important to remember that they will all be used simultaneously on the table and should therefore relate to each other. It is pointless to choose a very modern style of cutlery and a traditional dinner service unless you are convinced that the two complement each other. If you already own a dinner service or canteen of cutlery, take a piece along with you when you go to the shop.