Take it from us, French knife nomenclature can be mystifying. When it comes to branding and styling, translating the marques and finding genuine articles from trusted producers can get totally confusing. Take "Sabatier" for example. By our count upwards of 30 companies have "Sabatier" in the name. So how do you figure out what's good, and what's real?
It comes down to identifying quality and understanding the provenance. Traditionally, the Sabatier title simply signified that a knife was the product of top quality craftsmanship, manufactured in the city of Thiers.* Nowadays, that's not exactly the case, and you'll find plenty of so-called Sabatiers manufactured someplace else. If you ask true connoisseurs, though, a Sabatier must be produced in Thiers. In a way, it's like how true champagne comes from Champagne, or else its just sparkling wine.**
So if no single producer owns the trademark, how do you pick one from the pack. Of course you could be totally superficial and go with the coolest logo. Lions, trumpets, crowns, elephants, a variety of stars and numbers—there's plenty of options.
Then there's tradition and method. The Sabatier name first appeared in the 19th Century, and some of the manufacturers in Thiers can trace their origins back to that same time. Obviously, technology marches on and no one relies on machinery powered by the Durolle river.*** But some manufacturers still hand-make their signature products, relying on centuries-old knowhow passed from one trained craftsman to the next.
With all of that said, here at Flotsam+Fork, we carry Sabatier cutlery produced by Thiers-Issard. There are certainly other fine brands out there—but applying the standards mentioned above, we consider Thiers-Issard the real deal. Two hundred years after their founding, they to make exceptionally fine quality cutlery, by hand, in Thiers.**** Oh, and then there's that logo...
* Located Puy-de-Dôme region in central France, Thiers and the surrounding area have an abundance of fast flowing water, which attracted blacksmiths and other artisans to the during the Middle Ages—and turned the city into the center of French blade-making.
** Please don't get us wrong here. We're using this example for illustrative purposes. There's absolutely nothing wrong with with sparkling wine from outside Champagne. We're particularly fond of Crémant de Bourgogne to be honest.
*** Production was originally concentrated west of Thiers, in what's now known as La Vallée des Rouets (Valley of the Mills). Starting in the 20th century—as larger facilities we needed and direct access to falling water lost importance—the industry migrated to La Vallée des Usines (Valley of the Factories).
**** The company also specializes in straight razors and shaving blades, so they pride themselves on the exceptional sharpness and balance of the entire product line. "Kitchen knives so good you could shave with them" (F+F note: not actually recommended)