I was personally introduced to the area in the 70’s, when, as a young teacher I did not have my say – I just had to settle there and put up with its rural aspect, so remote from the glitzy Côte d’Azur I had lived on all my life.
To be honest, it took me a while to adjust, and as I was thinking I would never be able to do so, I was (fortunately?) “removed” by the Education Nationale and appointed to a job… in Nice.
Since then, I have returned with pleasure to an area that has much to offer: cheeses, volcanoes (extinct!) and, believe it or not, blades. Not blades of grass however, blades as in knives.
The small town I lived in at the time is the “French Sheffield”, or a smaller equivalent of the German Solingen, namely it is the capital of knives. Its name is THIERS.
One thing I learned there was to respect knives, and anything that has to do with them and their makers.
The city was a small one – still is. Competition was hard, and many of the small manufacturers had to close shop, as copies of their production were made cheaply in other parts of the world, if you see what I mean. The classics lost their attractiveness…
But recently a few creative minds there got together and came up with an answer to the crisis by creating and manufacturing a new type of knife, that they adequately named “Le Thiers”. It is designed according to very strict regulations by a “guild” of manufacturers. Just take a look at its shape, isn’t beautiful?
When I last visited the place recently I went directly to my favorite knife store, owned and run by the Chambriard family: all the kitchen knives I own come from there.
I bought the first ones back in the 70’s, and being of amazing quality, they are still sharp and efficient. Mind you, no drawer-treatment for them, I stick them onto a magnetic rack that respects their precious blades.
Respect. Here is the key word. The reason I go to that store is that I thoroughly enjoy listening to the members of the Chambriard family talk about their knives. They express such enthusiasm, know-how and respect for their trade that one has to fall under the spell. Few people I know still show such love for what they make and sell.
(I know... hard to read!)
So, you watch, you weigh, you compare the objects. The handles can be made of wood, of cast iron, of ebony, bone or horn. The blades can be carbon steel or stainless steel. How can you make up your mind? Just watch these and you’ll understand the difficulty of the task!
Eventually you will choose one of them and its blade will be perfect to peel tomatoes, the best ones in the world: my friend Gabriel’s:
If you were around, we would toast together both the people and their crafts, for the wine there is good too, around Saint Pourçain!
So… next time you visit France, please skip Paris. Hop on a train and visit AUVERGNE!