Yesterday, I went on a day trip to Northern France with a local travel group. We spent the first part of the day in Saint-Quentin. Even with rain & strong gusty winds we managed to make our way to a couple of charming shops. Our first stop was a cute kitchen shop filled with all sorts of items to give your home that French country style. I found these adorable wooden garden labels and an antique bathroom hook. While looking for a Brasserie we found an Irish shop that sold all types of interesting jams & teas, gorgeous sweaters, and other wonderful Irish items. Around 12:00 all the shops closed for lunch so we made our way to restaurant. I can't remember what my dish was called but it was similiar to a pizza except the crust was much thinner. The tarts came with a variety of toppings but mine was covered with sausage, creme fraiche, a ton of onions , and a delicious cheese. It was fabulous!
After lunch, we drove to Fresnoy-Le-Grand to take a tour of Le Creuset factory. This is the only Le Creuset factory in the world and they produce all of the cast iron cookware. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. But believe me I wish I could have taken a few because those photos would have been quite memorable!
The Le Creuset factory was a total Mom & Pops type of factory with just 50 men handling distribution and just a handful of men in the other departments. Surprisingly, I discovered they only make one mold (which consist of an inner & outer mold for each cast iron piece) for each piece created. The factory was dark, dingy, incredibly dusty and there were pots in big wooden crates everywhere. I don't think Le Creuset has changed a thing nor cleaned the place since they opened in the early 1920's! lol! There was a thick film of black dust/sand everywhere. I must admit I was pretty surprised. Of course, I didn't think the factory would be this ultra modern, sparkling clean factory but I did think the conditions would be better especially for the employees. Considering how expensive Le Creuset cookware is I was expecting something different.
The "show" as our tour guide (an adorable little french woman) called it started out in an area where a large machine pours hot molten iron into a vat (the size of a wheel barrel). Since I'm so short I couldn't really see all the action so I decided to move up front by our tour guide. Bad move on my part. lol! Once the machine finished pouring the hot liquid iron, the driver got out, put on a pair of sunglasses, mixed the liquid and drove to another area. Right after he drove away, the vat containing large quantity of hot iron EXPLODED! Hot liquid iron was flying all over the place and guess who was right in front to see the explosion first hand?! ME! Everyone ran! For a second, I thought a little spark had flown into my hair but luckily my hair was pretty wet from the rain. Thank god, everyone was fine but no longer was this just the Le Creuset factory it was now a death trap! lol!! It was pretty scary. Our tour guide said this was the first time in the past 10 years that an explosion had ever occurred. She thought the explosion was caused by a variation of temperature in the room.
It's so crazy how different this tour would be if given in the U.S. The fear of law suits would completely change the tour. Some tours aren't allowed to be conducted on the main floor with the actual workers. Secondly, I wouldn't be surprised if the company asked us to sign waivers in case someone was injured. And thirdly, the company would provide visitors with protective wear...goggles, hard hats, ear plugs.
As we followed our tour guide we saw how a machine uses the metal molds to make sand molds so iron can be poured into each mold. At this point, we were about 5 ft. from the hot liquid iron and little flames of fire... so I was just a wee bit nervous! After the molds go through the pouring and cooling stage, three men bang each piece with a hammer to take the excess black sand off. At this point, the pots are about 200 degrees. Hot stuff! The pots were washed & more sand was taken off with the help of two employees. Le Creuset recycles the sand & excess metal pieces to produce more pots which I thought was great. After the washing cycle, each piece is hand sanded and inspected. This department consisted of maybe about 8-10 guys. These were the only employees I saw wearing serious safety gear. The noise in this section was unbelievably loud. At this point, I started covering my mouth with my scarf. In just a short time, I could already feel the dust I was inhaling. I can just imagine what the workers must feel like. Once the pieces are sanded, another group (3-4 employees) inspects each piece and they receive their first layer of enamel, a grayish white base coat. Once the pieces dry, an employee sprays each individual item with a colored enamel (about 4 people in this department). When the item is ready, they go through a final inspection.
Le Creuset also had a small room filled with pieces throughout their history. It was interesting to read about the company's history and see how some of the colors & shapes have changed with time. For me, the most unique piece was a fondue set with an orange, brown, and green retro pattern. Very funky and cool. Our tour guide also told us how particular countries favor specific colors. For instance, Germany & Japan favor black and white cookware while Great Britain favors blue and green. And France adores the cerise (red) which was my favorite.
After the tour, our guide lead us to a small shop where we could buy Le Creuset items. Unfortunately, they didn't have the two red dutch oven pots I wanted. I did manage to buy a few fun baking pieces. Lil' C loves the little heart ramekins. Looks like I'll need to go on another Le Creuset trip for my cerise pots except next time I think I'll skip the tour and hang out at the shop.