A Farmer’s Tool
What once started as a simple farmer’s knife is now one of the most sought-after urban tools—and status symbol—to ever come out of France. The name Laguiole (pronounced, lah-yole), comes from a village in the middle of the Aveyron region of France, where the original knives were first made in 1829 by Jean-Pierre Calmels. It was a popular knife for farmers since it was adapted to their particular needs. Originally used to cut bread and wood, later, a poinçon or piercer was added that they could use to make holes in harnesses or to pierce the stomach of bloated animals suffering from colic. [I know, TMI, but hey, I’m not making this stuff up.] As needs changed, so did the knife. In 1880, as poor farmers emigrated to nearby Paris to open restaurants and bars, a corkscrew was added to the knife.
Many legends exist regarding the insect forged on the spring. Many believe it is a fly or horsefly that was commonly seen in the Aveyron region because of the cattle bred in the region. In fact, the catch on a Laguiole knife is often referred to as la mouche (the fly) in French. However, the locals prefer another, more glamorous story suggesting that the insect is a bee, an imperial symbol, bestowed by Napoleon himself to the town of Laguiole in thanks for the bravery of its soldiers. [Now that’s a French story that IS made up.]
Popularity Brings Change
Over the years, as demand grew, production increased and the manufacture of the knives gradually moved 100 miles northwest to the town of Thiers. By 1981, these famous knives were all produced in Thiers. In 1988, the town of Laguiole built two forges to once again produce its namesake products, but most authentic Laguiole products are still produced in Thiers. While the design of the Laguiole knife is over 170 years old, the design of the coveted Laguiole corkscrews made today is actually only 20 years old. Today the Laguiole name and signature bee on the spring is on folding knives, corkscrews, table cutlery and even cigar cutters.
There is a lot of confusion about the Laguiole name and the signature bee. Laguiole is not a single company that produces these knives and corkscrews. Aside from being the name of the village in Aveyron and the name of a semi-hard cheese, Laguiole is really just a generic name of a folding knife. Because the name Laguiole and the bee on the spring were never trademarked, many inexpensive, low-quality knock-offs have flooded the market. Just because there’s a bee on the spring or bolster, doesn’t mean it’s made in France. Many of these low quality machine-made knives and corkscrews are made in China or Pakistan. And even in France, there are different levels of quality, from inexpensive mostly machine-made items to high-end, fully hand-made and engraved products, with a high price tag to match.
The Laguiole corkscrews and cutlery offered by IWA strike a nice balance between high-quality and affordability. Proudly made in Thiers, France by the craftsmen at the Jean Dubost Company, our Laguiole products are beautiful, functional and durable. Holding one in your hand is like like holding a piece of French history. Not only should you get one for yourself, they make excellent gifts for the wine aficionados in your life too.
Here’s an interesting video showing the process of hand-assembling a sommelier’s corkscrew.