If you happen to go through the Aubrac region of France, go up to one of the herds of Aubrac cows. Look them straight in the eye and you’ll almost certainly see a few Aubrac flies – pretty, all things considered, and fairly gentle too. Is it a bee or a fly on the Laguiole knife? The story makes for interesting reading.
The Laguiole knife has traditionally been given as a gift, preciously held on to or handed down. From generation to generation, and from friend to friend - in exchange for a coin so as not to break the friendship. In the process a whole series of memories are passed from pocket to pocket, and from imagination to imagination.
The Laguiole knife used to have a so-called “mouche”, which translates as “fly” but is known as the bee. The bee was the small piece of triangular or oval-shaped metal, sometimes with a ring, which you needed to push up to allow the blade to close.
Today, on the forced notch of the Laguiole, the bee no longer has a functional role. But it is still there as a decoration, as a testament to the technical feature of its origins.
One thing’s for sure though: not all the bees on knives were in the shape of bees. Some were in the form of a human face, or a four-leaf clover, a scallop (carried by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela which goes through the Aubrac region), or a simple bee without any design. On some knives there was no bee at all.
Legend has it that Napoleon I allowed the inhabitants of Laguiole to have a bee on the village’s coat of arms to reward them for their bravery. There is, however, no written record to confirm the legend. And it’s rather unlikely, as at the time of the French Empire the people of the Aveyron were known for their opposition to military service.
According to another legend Napoleon III was said to have granted use of the bee, although this can also be refuted.
Another explanation comes from an adaptation of the local language, Langue d’Oc.
But one thing is certain: the first bee only appeared on a Laguiole knife at the beginning of 1909.
Legend also has it that shepherds used to plant the blade of their knife in their bread. As the knife stood up vertically it made the shape of a cross with the bread, which provided them with a focus for their prayer.
To ward off such bad luck, or simply to follow tradition, the person who receives a Laguiole knife must offer a gift of a coin in exchange. Not any coin will do: it has to be the lowest value coin they have on them, to show that the money is not important.
Traditionally, when the grandfather of the family unfolded his knife the meal could commence. Children were to be quiet, and the grandmother served the meal. When the knife was closed, the meal was over. The people round the table returned to work, the children could speak and play again and the grandmother could clear the table.
A Laguiole knife-maker was said to have lifted his wife’s skirts and found inspiration for this knife, whose handle is modeled on his wife’s leg…
A child was given a knife when he was old enough to look after the most precious thing on the farm – the herd of cows. The knife was used widely in daily life on the Aubrac plateau.