The Ulu: A Slice of Arctic Culture   

Haven't you ever heard of an ulu (
pronounced oo-loo)?

I hadn't either until I stepped off a plane in Anchorage. Walking through the concourse to collect my luggage I started seeing signs that read "ulus must be checked with baggage." There was a drawing on the sign — a pastry dough scraper with an arced bottom came to mind. 

"Must be checked..." Hmm! It must be sharp I reasoned. I wondered if it was a knife? If so, would it have a place in The Complete Kitchen? This collector and connoisseur of culinary daring had to know.

This was a business trip with no extra time built in for hanging around or shopping. Besides, it was winter and I was in Alaska. Window shopping was hardly on my mind.

It turned out that Anchorage was a charming town - even in January. And, it didn't take long to find out "the" place to go to find out more about an ulu. The locals sent me to
The Ulu Factory. It's located at 211 East Ship Creek Ave. (next to the Comfort Inn), which parallels Ship Creek near it's entrance to Cook Inlet in the heart of the business district.

Arctic Natives have been using a version of today's ulu for hundreds of years. Originally it was inspired by the natural curves and tapered fine edges often found in slate. Today, ulus are made using a stainless steel alloy which is polished to a mirror finish. A wooden handle is attached to the top, although occasionally an ivory or a "cultured" (imitation) moose antler is used instead. 

In recent years many visitors have found out what Natives have known for years. The ulu is a very versatile cutting tool. The position of the handle gives you an extraordinary amount of leverage and stability when you cut or chop. Fine cuts are simple and chopping is easy. 

The length of the blade is typically six inches. There is also an eight inch ulu. I can honestly say though that all of the chopping and cutting that I have done was readily handled by the smaller one which retails for $16. The larger one is priced at $22. Add a few more dollars if you want a handle carved or etched with an Alaskan theme. Each ulu comes with a stand.

Also available is a combination butcher block and cutting bowl which is nicely crafted from Alaska Birch and American Walnut. The blade matches the curvature of the bowl perfectly. The ingredients neatly stay inside the bowl as you chop. Anything that "pops out" as you chop gingerly rolls down the bowl. A 7 1/4" block and bowl with a 6" ulu run $30.

Sharpening an ulu is like sharpening a knife. They'll sell you an ulu sharpener, which resembles the sharpener used on ice augers for $6.75. The stone or steel that you use for your other cutlery works just fine though.

The factory is a small but busy place. You can smell fresh cut wood and hear the blades being sharpened at high speeds as you open the door. There is a display area where you can see and feel everything they sell. The staff is exceptionally friendly, helpful and patient. Someone even brought me some things to try and chop and gave me a quick demo.

Not going to Alaska any time soon? Visit The Ulu Factory online. They ship and you won't have to remember to check your ulu with your baggage.