A few years back, when I set out to make my kitchen more “French” — long before I realized all the culinary accouterments in the world would not make it so — I bought a set of Laguiole steak knives. You know, the knives made in France and always decorated with a little bee design where the handle meets the blade.
I have no complaints. The slender, elegant knives cut meat swiftly and evenly. Because my knives have stainless steel handles they can be used in the dishwasher — a welcome convenience for a time-strapped cook like me.
It’s that darned bee. He looks different everytime I see him. If I want to buy — say table service for eight — I may get a different bee design. No big deal: I don't like matchy-matchy stuff anyway. But still.
As I learned last year, the Lagiuole is a type of knife, not a brand. The name is not restricted to any single company. An estimated 70-80 different manufacturers, some large and others cottage industries, produce Lagiuole cutlery. That explains the poorly made service for eight I saw for about 20 euros in a LeClerc store.
From what I've read, Laguiole knives originated in the early 19th century in the Avreyon town of Laguiole. Today, about 70 percent of the cutlery (the industry has expanded) is produced in the south of France.
Is the little critter on the handle a bee or a cattle fly? There is some debate there. (I say bee. The bees in France are so benign. They buzz contentedly and hover about, but never seem to sting. At least in my scant experience.)
The design differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. How many ways can a bee look? Many, it seems.
Ultimately, it does not matter that the Laguiole bees are not uniform, as long as the knives slice and cut and spread and do everything knives are meant to do.
All the Laguiole in the world won't make my kitchen French. It's — as I've said before — more of an attitude thing anyway. And my kitchen has plenty of attitude.