Once you have chosen the cutlery you like the best, you will want to celebrate by preparing a special meal - why not try our special choice recipe - we change these regularly, so please check back and try the newest ones!!
You can read all about the History of Cutlery by clicking here, but we have included some brief details about the origins of our modern knives, forks, spoons and other flatware items here below - you will see that Britain played a big part in it.
The Sheffield Cutlery Industry
Sheffield has been the home of cutlery for the best part of the last thousand years. Although there were many knife making and cutlery centres in Britain over the centuries, Sheffield became the pre-eminent centre for many reasons.
The first recorded mention of Sheffield cutlery is in the inventory of King Edward III's possessions in the Tower of London in 1340. King Edward must have valued the knife as he was very specific about leaving it to a beneficiary in his will. In the 1380's Chaucer wrote about a Sheffield knife in the Reeves tale, and can be seen wearing such a knife in the portraits that were painted of him. By the 1580's, Sheffield penknives were being recommended as the first choice for schoolmasters in The Writing Schoolmaster.
Sheffield has good natural resources. Five rivers flow from the surrounding hills down through the Sheffield area and powered the water wheels which drove grinding wheels for the cutlers. Coal for smelting and forging, and iron ore for making the blades were also both mined locally. Finally, nearby quarries provided the sandstone for the grindstones with which items were sharpened and polished, and it was the quality of these grindstones and the large number of water powered workshops using them that really gave Sheffield the edge above other cutlery making centres.
Another reason for the success of Sheffield's cutlery industry must be due to the system of organisation. Under George Talbot, Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, the cutlers operated under a system of guilds, with the Lord of the Manor at the head. Unfortunately, when George Talbot's successor died in 1617, the guild system fell down, as there was nobody to take over in the position of authority. The Sheffield cutlers were so concerned by the disorganisation, that 4 years later, they presented a bill to Parliament to form a new controlling body. This Act of Parliament formed the Company of Cutlers of Hallamshire (which covers the whole Sheffield area) which was establised in 1624, and under this new authority, the cutlery industry flourished. The company is still around today, and although it lost it's authority in the early 19th Century, it still has some important functions, and is relevant today in Sheffield.
The Sheffield Cutlery trade grew throughout the 17th and early 18th Centuries, gaining extra growth when new developments in increasing the quality of steel gave the cutlers a finer basic product to work with. Specialisation of tasks also helped the industry to grow, and by the mid 19th Century, the Sheffield cutlery trade was very large, employing ten thousand people, and by the end of the Century more than fifteen thousand. In comparison, London had only one thousand, and then 500 cutlers at those dates. By the 1920's a new development - stainless steel started to be used, developed by a Sheffield metallurgist, and it is now the standard material for knife blades made today.
We always talk about knives and forks, never forks and knives, probably because the knife has the longest history. The first very simple cutting edges were made from flint and date back 2 million years, but recognisable blades were made out of stone from five hundred thousand years years ago during the palaeolithic period (500,000-10,000 B.C.)
By the Neolithic period four to seven thousand years ago (5000-2000 B.C.), stone blades were being polished and were fitted with crude handles along the top edge of the blade, which were made of wood or animal hides to protect the users hand.
Metal blade knives were first made from copper and then bronze in the years 3000-700 B.C., and they have many features that we still retain today. A bolster and tang was added so that a handle could be fitted to the end of the blade (just as they are today), and shapes developed that can still be seen in many carving knives that are still produced today. After the bronze age came the discovery that an iron blade had a much sharper and long-lasting edge, and iron knives were widely made from about 1000 years before the birth of Christ. The Romans in particular developed many different types of knife to suit a wide number of uses (including ritual animal sacrifices and knives for cutting hair!). Knives were considered to be very important possessions, and were treasured - people had their personal eating knives which they carried with them (they would not be provided at a table), and it was not unusual for people to be buried with their personal eating knives.
Personal eating knives first appeared in Britain in the 14th Century. However, individual forks to be used with the knives were not in widely used until the the end of the 16th Century in Britain. Interestingly, it was the Italians who first started using forks, and it took more than 50 years before they were adopted by the British - the Italians were obviously much more fussy about using dirty fingers to pick up pieces of food!
It is believed that forks were first developed from a small steadying knife that was used to hold a joint of meat steady whilst it was being carved. The single point turned into a single prong, and then a two-pronged fork, much like carving forks today. Three-pronged and four-pronged versions were developed as forks became smaller and more suited to eating with, rather than carving with.
The first spoons were very crude - scooped out of the end of a bone or an animal's horn, or made out of a shell tied onto a stick. Spoons continued to be made out of these materials for many years, even though the bronze age and iron ages when knives were being made out of metal. Very few bronze spoons have ever been found, and iron was not suited for bending into spoons.
The Romans introduced more sophisticated spoons to Britain, making them out of bone, pewter, bronze and silver. The earliest Roman spoons are simply round bowls attached to a narrow handle, but different bowl shapes evolved as time went by, becoming thinner at the handle end, and more flared at the front. When the Viking and Saxon invaders came to Britain, spoon shapes changed again, the bowl becoming leaf-shaped, with decorative ends shaped like carved acorns. As with knives, personal eating spoons would carried with a person - they would not be provided for people at a table, and were often given as Christening gifts. When Cromwell and the Puritanswere in power, the decorative ends to spoons were removed and the end flattened, and the bowl changed to an elipical (oval) shape that is now the familiar shape of a dessert spoon today.
Selecting the Best Cutlery Set for your Needs
Nearly every cutlery set used in general foodservice is made from stainless steel - even if it is finally plated with electro-plated nickel silver (EPNS).
However, there are solid silver sets available still at a price, as well as vintage silver sets often seen at auctions, which grace many large homes or are handed down as family heirlooms down the generations. Solid silver cutlery is very usable, wears well although one needs to not treat it too roughly, and can complement absolutely any dinner occasion.
Most people, however, are not privileged with having those proverbial silver spoons - here are the other types which are readily available on the market.
Looking After Silver-plated Cutlery
With silver-plated cutlery, also called EPNS, the thickness of the plating determines both the durability and the price. Cheap EPNS may look good initially, but will not have a good lifetime . EPNS is generally used in top end restaurants and has a very elegant and classical look. Careful maintenance of EPNS cutlery is required with regular cleaning and the use of a silver polish to keep the lustre.
Stainless Steel Utensils
Stainless steel is used by most restaurants and is a mixture of steel, nickel and chromium. This type of cutlery set is described according to the nickel and chromium percentage content. The most common restaurant grade of stainless steel is labelled 18/10, which means that of the 100 parts in the steel, 18 parts are nickel and 10 parts chromium.
Dishwasher Safe Cutlery Sets
The advantage of 18/10 cutlery is that it is a really hard material that is both resistant to scratching and dishwasher safe. There are so many great patterns of cutlery available to suit all manner of styles. The traditional patterns such as Harley, Jesmond, Bead, Kings and Dubarry are universally called Parish Patterns.
Hollow & Solid Handled Designs
Another consideration is the choice of handle design. Hollow handles have a lighter, chunky feel in the hand, while solid handles are much firmer and smaller. Although there is no difference in durability, you will find that a hollow handle is more expensive.
When purchasing a new set of cutlery be aware that the interpretation of a specific pattern may well differ between that of one company and another. You should also consider the age of the range and subsequent stock availability, and what your intended use is - frequent, daily family use, or for special occasions only, or for a couple only - choice is very much one based on personal opinion as well as budget available to you. Treated properly, a nice quality cutlery set could last for many years.