Sustainability is something of a buzz word at present, and quite rightly, even if it does seem sometimes that some approaches to it are somewhat opportunistic.
So bear with me whilst I take you back ten years to 2011. I don't recall how it was we arranged to meet, but Sue Currie from Netherton Foundry came to see me to show me the range of cast iron products that they were then producing. She and her husband Neil had, and still have, a flourishing foundry in South Shropshire and I don't now recall why we took it no further at the time(probably that we already do a range of cast iron?), but anyway we didn't. About 2 or 3 years ago Babette and I started to see at the trade shows, that some specialist manufacturers were beginning to get into uncoated pans in one guise or another in quite a big way and this prompted me to look at a number of different companies such as De Buyer from France and Kuhn Rikon from Switzerland producing either steel or iron pans. And it was whist I was digesting these two, both of whom very kindly sent me samples to use, that I eventually recalled my meeting with Sue from 10 years before.
I ended up looking at their website and was astonished at how their ranges had mushroomed. They now had frying pans ranging from 20cm (8") to 36cm (14"), shallow casseroles (I'm always a sucker for these ever since I owned my first Le Creuset Buffet pan back in the 80's) in a variety of sizes, Then Woks that, like the frying pans, are pre seasoned, (I'll come back to that) and bakeware in the guise of bread tins and lovely bread cloches with or without a griddle base, and so the list goes on. And importantly, I assumed from their look that they were steel rather than cast iron. Le Creuset are the only people who make cast iron "properly" in my opinion, that's to say they have the ability to make really thin cast iron that's still strong for the job and therefore makes it far more useable than their competition. Lovers of Staub (French), Lodge(American) and Chinese Cast iron products are free to disagree with me, I just think you are misinformed.... or very strong? Anyway back to Netherton. It turns out that my assumption was wrong, and in fact the pans were "Iron" and not steel (I'll come back to this in a moment as well.)
I then sent Sue an email apologising for the slight delay (10years) and received a very understanding response. We talked through the ranges on the phone and the only fly in the ointment was that the this was in April this year and last week we received our first delivery. So is this Sue's revenge for me keeping her waiting 10 years....no I believe not. She describes their business as a cottage industry and if I were to compare them to my favourite cast iron brand then that might describe them, but I believe that their success is the reason for the long delays and that in the process they have risen way above cottage industry levels.
There are probably two or three reasons so for this success and therefore the long delivery times. Firstly they are riding a wave of interest in cooking generally (as are we) and secondly they have been greatly helped by the desire of more and more people to "buy once" and that's it, for life. They have also been helped by the desire of those same people to get away from everlasting plastic coated cookware, in other words non-stick coated cookware, partly because it can't last like an uncoated pan, partly for health reasons (although these days there are few if any risks associated with modern non sticks). And partly because a non-stick coated pan can never produce the same level of taste that an uncoated one can*. Are there hordes of people just clamouring for uncoated "last a lifetime" cookware? I sort of doubt it, I think it's the province of the enthusiastic cook/chef who has a reasonable level of experience and perhaps cooks regularly on uncoated surfaces (e.g. Le Creuset cast iron, or Demeyere Atlantis). So if you are one these then I have a bit of a treat for you. If you are more of a beginner, but willing to make a few mistakes, by which I mean, the odd undercooked or carbonised meal, then ditto.
Materials and coatings
The ranges we have taken in from Netherton are iron. Now I have a confession to make . Until earlier this week I hadn't registered that such a thing really existed, which I'm a little ashamed of since I've been selling cookware since I was knee high to a grasshopper and thought I knew my way round pans pretty well. It was only when quizzing Sue about her ranges in preparation for this email that I realise that iron was different to both cast iron (fairly obvious) and different again to steel (not so obvious) and maybe of little interest to you. So move down a paragraph or two if I'm boring you. But I just love this stuff.
So these pans are made of Iron, and iron is the rolled version of cast iron if you like, and because it's been rolled, its lengthened the molecule chains that in the iron which turns it into a really quite flexible material. And because its flexible (as opposed to cast iron that will crack if you drop it) it can be spun on a lathe and with a bit of leverage and brute force, shape the frying pan over a wooden former to produce the frying pan in the picture. Rather surprisingly, this is all done by hand! A handle is then attached with three rivets typically and apparently they (rivets) always come from the same source and are specifically made to Netherton specs (this level of attention to detail that just appeals to my "geeky" and "continuous improvement" mind).
The black iron rivets used on Netherton Foundry handles are made and annealed in the Black Country.
Now one of the problems associated with frying on plain steel / cast iron / iron is that the surface needs to be seasoned. Otherwise for the first half dozen times a pan is used, food sticks like nobody's business, so the best manufacturers pre season their pans. Netherton in keeping with their ethos do this, but go one stage further. They use flax oil, probably because of its high flash point, but they source it from an organic farm in Sussex. Why organic I asked Sue. "Because we don't want our pans to contaminate the food cooked in them" she replied. Another example of their attention to detail that I really like, It sort of leaves me with a warm glow. People who stick to their principles. I like and admire that.
I almost forgot to say that the frying pans come with either an oak wood handle sourced only 5 miles down the road from the foundry, from a chap who apparently needs to be persuaded each year that Netherton pans are still a worthy case for his beloved oak. Or you can have just the plain iron handle, which I prefer the looks of, but I've not yet tried it to see how hot the metal handle gets. The pans sans wood are a little cheaper.
So what are they like in use. Well I've been using their 26cm (10") Frying Pan since May this year for my Saturday lunch fry up and I love it. I do bacon first, quite hot (no. 7) on our induction hob and I do use a drop of corn oil to stop the bacon sticking if it's the very thinly cut stuff, and then fry the eggs at a touch higher temperature, to give them a lovely golden colour on the underside and a slightly crispy edge....perfection. Some hot buttered toast, freshly ground salt and pepper and a cup of Earl Grey, what more could you want? The pan performs faultlessly, allowing the fried eggs to release almost as if it were a non-stick pan and so much more flavour than when cooked on non-stick. The only other pan that produces this effect is our 28cm Demeyere 7 ply frying pan, but that of course is three or four times the price.
After I've finished with it, if there is no "slave" around to clear up after me, then I wash it up carefully, that's to say I'm reasonably careful to not remove the "Patina" that I'm gradually building up on the surface of the pan which is what makes it so non-stick in use. When its new don't wash it up, either at all (wipe with a paper towel), or only fairly cursorily to allow the seasoning/patina to really establish itself. If you do get something badly burnt on you can be pretty cavalier in your approach, a metal fish slice will do it, but try not to scrape down to the iron or the food will tend to stick around this area for a while until the seasoning has built up again.
I've rather run out of time again so I'll conclude by saying that I think this is an all-round excellent range from and excellent company, sold, dare I say it, by an excellent company! All our usual guarantees apply including returning if you find it doesn't work for you. The full range that we are currently stocking is on the website and this weekend I'm bribing you to have a go by offering you 20% off so for instance the 26cm frying pan that normally sells for £75 will be £60.00 instead and this applies till Sunday night. If you've already bought one from us before this offer, then let us know and we'll send you a credit note or gift voucher for the difference. I trust you have a pleasant and peaceful weekend
* Non Stick is less able to produce the same level of caramelisation because it puts a barrier between the food and the heat and prevents initial sticking, which is a "Bad Thing" as Sellar and Yeatman would say. So a plain steel, stainless steel, cast iron or iron pan will always do a better job for you than their coated equivalent, provided you know what you are doing.
**Stellar and Yeatman wrote a book called "1066 and All That" which as a child I found very funny and was a contributor to my failing my History O Level.