Laguiole, a knife created in the early 19th century
Laguiole is the main city of the Monts d’Aubrac region.
Its name evokes the delicious local cheese produced from the renowned Aubrac cattle breed.
The town has even placed a life size statue of a bull in its main square (parking lot).
Tradition says that holding the private parts of the animal brings good luck…
Amazingly, men, women, children, French and foreign tourists, young and old engaged heartily in the tradition.
This fun ritual completed, they end up in one of the local restaurants where they feast on a succulent joint of Aubrac meat served with a generous portion of aligot.
However, the name Laguiole evokes also an object-tool whose reputation is second to none, a knife!
One might think that the Laguiole Knife production is an ancient tradition adapted and refined over the centuries!
Laguiole knife’s evolution
Indeed, the Laguiole knife dates only from the early 19th century and its design was inspired by the famous Spanish navaja.
Local shepherds who worked in Catalonia as lumberjacks during the winter months, adopted the navaja and brought it back home.
The true paternity of the Laguiole knife, however, falls to Pierre-Jean Calmels who in 1829 turned the navaja into a folding knife with forced notch.
The Laguiole knife has a slip joint but no ring to keep the blade opened.
The spring lies constantly on the spine of the blade, and therefore stops in the notch of the spine when the knife is open.
The slip joint has no lock and simply closes by putting pressure on the spine of the blade.
The folding Laguiole was easier to use and carry and became an indispensable tool for the shepherds.
In 1840, the punch or trocart used by breeders was added to the knife.
This allowed them to pierce the rumen of cattle to allow fermentation gases to escape.
This bloating occurs at the beginning of transhumance when the animals changed their diet, namely the passing from hay to fresh grass which they had lost the habit of digesting.
A corkscrew was added in 1880 to meet the requests from cafe owners from Aveyron who had opened bars in Paris.
Thus was born the famous three-piece knife with a blade, a corkscrew and a punch, the ancestor of all the current Laguiole knife.
The production of knives suffered a decline in the interwar.
The industry was, however, revived with great success in the 1980s.
Some 400,000 knives are now produced annually in the Laguiole approved area.
Laguiole knife’s characteristics
Unfortunately, the brand name Laguiole was not registered so it is difficult to control its use.
Many trade marks, however, differentiate a authentic Laguiole knife from a fake.
The first sign of authenticity of a Laguiole knife is its Certificate of Origin.
The guarantee must imperatively display the name, address and phone of the manufacturer.
Secondly, the Laguiole knife must be engraved with the cutlery’s logo.
The third characteristic is the Bee that adorns the junction of the handle and blade.
History has it that Napoleon I gave the Bee, the emblem of his seal, to the town in recognition of the exceptional bravery the soldiers from Laguiole displayed during his campaigns.
However, the bee is not an absolute guarantee of authenticity (many are indeed fake!)
That said, custom designs can occasionally replace the Bee on a genuine Laguiole.
Indeed, a scallop (the symbol of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela) or a four- leaf clover (a traditional good-luck charm) can adorn ‘pieces uniques’.
Some Laguiole’s handles used to be decorated with a Shepherd’s Cross, a pattern formed by small rivets.
This pattern appeared at the beginning of the 20th century at the request of shepherds who couldn’t attend Mass while tending to their flock in the altitude pastures during summer.
They planted their knives in their bread and the Cross therefore served as a portable oratory!
Finally, many genuine Laguiole knives are extensively decorated.
However, the complexity and number of patterns engraved on the top and the back of the blade, the spring and the bolster depend on the model.
They obviously affect the value of the knife.
Laguiole knife’s blades
There are three different qualities of blades.
The original Laguiole knife (used by the shepherds of Aveyron) has a carbon steel blade.
Be aware that this blade is prone to oxidation and therefore rusts on contact with water.
Never wash it, but dry it immediately after use!
The stainless steel blade doesn’t rust of course, however, it must always be dried after use.
This ritual gesture maintains its brilliance and good condition and therefore ensures the longevity of the knife.
Finally there is the prestigious Damascus steel blade.
Damascus steel is obtained by a forging technique dating back over 2,000 years.
The origin is lost in the mists of time but it was brought back from Syria during the Crusades.
The Crusaders were undoubtedly impressed by the exceptional quality, strength and flexibility of the swords used by the Ottomans (Turks).
Damascus steel production requires a lot of stretching and bending work that produces a multitude of layers patiently integrated with each other.
Each blade, therefore, produces a unique sound due to its extreme flexibility; the many folds create unique patterns.
Needless to say that the knives with Damascus steel blades are premium items!
Laguiole’s knife handles
Laguiole knives’ handles are traditionally made from horn and horn tip from Aubrac cow.
However, antler and ivory are also used for premium and collectable knives.
These materials are alive and may therefore deteriorate or crack upon contact with water… so no dishwasher!
The handles made from wood (French or exotic) may also deteriorate, so these also require respect.
There is a full range of sensations when feeling, touching and holding a Laguiole knife.
There is the softness of boxwood and olive wood, the peppery smell of juniper, the rich hues of rosewood and the solidity of acacia…
An impressive range of models has been created since the original three-piece knife: everyday models, models of state, pieces uniques, tableware and kitchen utensils etc…
Knives with stainless steel, aluminum or acrylic handles are washable.
They were created in order to offer a wider range of prices and a touch of modernity in response to requests of a diverse clientele.
Small fawn, pearly or bright coloured knives are therefore now on display alongside the traditional models and prestigious pieces for all to enjoy.
There are priced in order to suit everyone’s pocket.
However, even the manufacture of the most affordable Laguiole knife benefits from a unique treatment and know-how.
Where to buy your Laguiole knife?
On site, in one of Laguiole’s traditional artisan factories, or from their online catalogues.
Keep in mind that Laguiole knives are only manufactured in Laguiole, therefore don’t buy them from any other place if you want a genuine knife!
Laguiole artisan factories indeed produce knives without robotic or automatic assistance, and each cutler is in charge of his knife from beginning to end!
Coordinates Laguiole:Lat 44.683579 – long 2.845605