the crucible of cooking

I loved this report on the Le Creuset factory! 

I’m a random collector of Le Creuset. When rifling through a random box at a flea market in France, a hint of one of their trademark colors may catch my eye. I’ll pull out the pot, inspect it (never with too much excitement because if I plan to bargain for it, I need to keep my cards close to my chest), then either make an offer or put it back.

Because space is always an issue, I evaluate it for a number of factors: If it’d be a good addition to my batterie de cuisine, if the price is right, and how much use it’s had. (That is, what condition it’s in.) I actually love seeing the well-used pieces at the flea markets in France, because many people have kept their Le Creuset pots and pans in their families, handing them down from generation to generation. Some I put back because they’re too far gone, others I haggle for – or just pay up because it’s too good to leave behind – and a few I regret not acting faster on, seeing them snapped up by others.

The word creuset translated to crucible and refers to a very sturdy cooking cauldron. One French-English dictionary translated to a “melting pot,” which seems very appropriate.

The company was started by two Belgian men – one was an enameling expert, the other, a metal caster. The signature flame (orange) color that’s my favorite was modeled after the intense orange glow that comes out of the cauldron that they use to melt the iron.

I watched as old metal scraps, many parts of railroad tracks, got recycled and melted in the cauldron, which became a burning, intense fireball. I was invited to peer inside as they tilted it forward.

It was so hot that I could barely get closer than 10 feet (3 meters) to it. It was hotter than I could imagine and it was kind of scary at the same time. The inside was a bubbling, heaving mass of red-hot iron and I’d never seen anything like it. I read that iron melts at about 2795ºF (1535ºC) and boils at 5183ºF (2862ºC). I wasn’t getting close enough to stick a thermometer in there – I’ll take their word for it!

Each batch of iron is tested to make sure it meets their particular standards and it was amazing to see what came out of that boiling cauldron a few minutes later, as we watched the pouring, setting, and release of each pan from its mold.

Cast-iron fans, and hygiene folks, might want to scroll ahead, but I asked why they didn’t make a line of non-enameled cast iron skillets. They explained that cast iron works by absorbing the various fats and greases that are cooked in it into tiny pores in the metal, which helps create a sort-of nonstick surface (except to those of us who have tried to make fried rice in ours), and it’s not exactly hygienic. [...]
Today, Le Creuset remains a popular brand, not just in France, but around the world, including across Europe, in the United States, and in Japan. (The last two are the largest buyers of their cookware in the world.) The original foundry was started in 1925 in the North of France, in Fresnoy-le-Grand, and is still making cookware today the same way they’ve been doing it for nearly a hundred years. The factory isn’t open to the public, because it’s an actual working foundry and isn’t set up for visitors.
via {David Leibovitz}


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