Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cutting Loose in Thiers

Have you ever heard of Thiers? I hadn’t either. What about Laguiole? Maybe? Well, they’re both famous for knives. The rustic French goats herder (Yves, see Blog 3) had told us Thiers knives are Laguiole knives for normal people (in fact he said non-snobs).

Well, Thiers is close by so: “On y va”. Lots of knife shops, some good, some brilliant. It’s a lovely location, with the centre of the town on the hillside. The shop we were recommended (Chambriard) was a veritable knife heaven (although the classic Frenchman serving us refused to believe that stainless steel was invented in Sheffield, England). I quickly realised Thiers does make a lot of knives, you can tell, and the town has an industrial feel. The chefs’ knife brand Sabatier is also made there.

Laguiole by contrast is more touristy and more quaint, and it shows in the knives: Laguiole – elegant, Thiers – practical and functional (the difference in price is minimal, if anything). Although I gather the vast majority of Laguiole knives are nowadays made in Thiers (the style of knife originated in Laguiole but not a lot is currently made there).

And before you ask if I bought a knife in Thiers, of course I didn’t: my Dad’s from Sheffield - if I want a knife, I’ll get one from where stainless steel was invented!

But what about cheese? I hear you say. Well, on the way to Thiers I had to stop at a local laitière (dairy) who works very closely with Mons. In fact he only produces cheese and Mons affinés all of his products for him in the tunnel, before giving them back to him to sell when they’re ready. It was nice to understand the production of certain cheeses before they arrive at Mons. In particular the local cheese – Lavort – is made there then shipped to Mons where it is aged until the flavour, texture and appearance develop to their best. Lavort is a sheep's milk pressed cheese that is made in an interesting shape (reflecting the extinct volcanoes in the area). When they arrive at Mons they are barely out of the brine bath (which gives them their salt), over time their rind goes through several micro-bacterial changes to form the characteristic brown, tough dusty rind.

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