WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Laguiole is a small village in the south of France that features old traditional slated roofs and which is surrounded by deep forests. There are only 1,200 inhabitants who still use regional Occitan dialect. Despite its size, the village is known worldwide for two things: Laguiole cheese and Laguiole knives.
The village was first mentioned in 1793, and it has since remained of similar size. A fascinating place visited by tourists coming to admire life in rural France.
HISTORY OF THE KNIFE
Seasonal cattle herder migrations in Catalan lands, which span across parts of northern Spain and southern France brought ‘Navaja’ to France. It is this influence that inspired Jean-Pierre Calmels to create the first known laguiole style knife in 1829.
It looked slightly different from today’s version as it was adapted and modified in later years.
For me, of course, it is more interesting to see that from being just a knife, it also acquired a new feature – corkscrew, in 1880. As it was demanded by traders in Paris.
The fly represents all those flies following Aubrac cows. This cow migration allowed Laguiole design to travel from Spain to France.
Handles can be made out of variety of rare and interesting looking wood, or from the varied colour horn.
The blade is made from 440 steel that does not rust and allows sharpness to stay longer without metal being too brittle.
It is not very obvious and hence not everyone sees it at first, but there is a cross on the handle. The story goes that it represents a famous cross in the Occitanie region – Pont d’Estaing, which was built around 15th century (shown in the picture).
We also know that shepperds, who were the most frequent users of Laguiole knives, used it for praying. At lunch time, they would stick the handle into the bread and pray towards it.
It might sound unusual today, but let’s remember that these guys were alone most of the time, and prayer was big part of their lives.
Hence, the knife was a very special multipurpose tool for them.
The bee was adopted in 1909 by Jules Calmels, but it was not that ground breaking. For decades five knife making workshops in Laguiole were putting all types of decorations: animals, plants, trees or flowers. The arguments for calling it in different names are due to two different stories.
Five workshops in Laguiole could not cope with the ever growing demand at the beginning of 20th century. Hence they asked the cutlery craftsmen from Thiers village to help them out.
But, after Second World War the demand for quality knives sharply declined and all workshops in Laquiole ended up closing.
So, for 50 years Laguiole knives were produced only in Thiers.
It seems rather sad, hence I was delighted to learn that in 1985, with help from Thiers craftsmen, Laguiole workshop came back to the village. It was even helped by a worldwide famous french designer Phillipe Starck. Who drew a new line of design which was an instant success.
The Laguiole knives and cutlery is still made in both places by generations of cutlers who live and breath Laguiole cutlery, knives and wine openers.
It gets a little complicated here…
Interestingly, Laguiole be patented to a location, like champagne, for example. Hence makers from around the world can make Laguiole and treat it as a name for type of cutlery.
To ensure provenance and quality of over 150 year old experience Laguioles come with certification from Thiers city or Laguiole village based makers. There is only a handful:
Laguiole makers these days have a lot of different partnerships. It is a great opportunity to get some exceptional wine openers that are limited edition or have some unusual designs.
Chatêu Laguiole, for example released a limited edition wine opener that is celebrating the first Asian sommelier who won ‘World Sommelier Championship’ – Shinya Tasaki.
He was involved in the design of this impressive corkscrew and even chose the red and white colours. They are designed to represent red and white wines of the world.
Combine that with handmade crafsmanship developed for over 150 years and you have yourself an exceptional wine opener.
These days you can buy more than just a knife or a wine opener from Laguiole. It now makes table sets, cigar cutters and limited pieces. You can, for example, own a knife with a handle made out of Mammoth horn. But, it does not really matter which Laguiole you own. Just by appreciating its craftsmanship and quality of things made in Laguiole and Thiers villages you support its livelihood and continuous place in history. So, in a way, you don’t just own a piece of history, you are creating it too.
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We spent years searching the web, artisan shops and visiting variety of makers in Europe. You welcome.