Small knife for peeling, mincing and precise cutting. Drop-forged carbon steel takes and keeps a sharper edge longer. Taper-ground edge. Handmade in Solingen, Germany. (
Paring knives are the most versatile of small knives. Their size makes them easy to maneuver, and they work just as well for peeling fruits and vegetables in your hand as they do for on-the-board slicing and mincing. If you’re only going to have three knives in your drawer, a good paring knife should be one of them.
The carbon steel blade on this knife means a harder metal which can be ground to a thinner and sharper edge — and it will hold that razor sharp edge for a long time. However, the carbon content also means the blades develop oxidized stains and are prone to rust if not maintained properly. Despite this, carbon steel knives continue to have a dedicated following. It is simply a better cutting tool and maintaining them really isn’t that challenging.
Before there was stainless steel, if you wanted to make something sharp, you made it with carbon steel. Windmuehlenmesser has been making carbon steel knives since 1872 in the German city of Solingen, a place that has been known for blades since the Medieval era, and where sharpness of edge and quality of material is literally decreed by law.
The blade of the paring knife is 85 mm (3.34 inches) long, with a riveted copper cherrywood handle that was chosen for being lightweight and easy to move around. That, and because the grain and deep red color are beautiful.
Windmuehlenmesser knives are taper ground, as opposed to the steep and narrow bevel of industrially produced knives. The knife’s blade is a single piece of metal that seamlessly gets sharper and thinner from heel to tip, and from spine to cutting edge. This technique creates a more stable, sharper, longer-lasting edge, and is the artisanal grind that made Solingen knives famous. Today, few craftsmen, even in Solingen, still grind blades these way, but Windmuehlenmesser’s master grinder, Wilfried Fehrekampf, has been doing it for fifty years and is passing the skill down to his team of journeymen and apprentices.
Paring knives are best for anything small, and the length of the blade is the most obvious indication of whether it's the right knife for the job. A knife of this size is best for on-the-board tasks like wedging stone fruit, mincing garlic, slicing shallots, and trimming meat. The size also gives you the control and precision for the kind of knife work you do in your hand: coring apples, peeling potatoes, trimming string beans.
Never put a carbon steel knife, or any knife, in the dishwasher. Exposure to harsh detergents, clanking around against other dishes, and sitting wet in the machine all contribute to degrading the knife's edge.
Hand wash and fully dry a carbon steel knife after use. If you've been using it to cut acidic fruits or vegetables, wash and dry it immediately to keep orange rust from forming. Never let the knife sit around in water, this will cause it to rust. Keep the blade and the handle lightly oiled with an edible mineral oil, or olive oil.
Over time, the carbon steel blade develops a dark grey patina. This is the kind of oxidization you want. It doesn't make the knife any less sharp and is completely harmless. In fact, this discoloration reduces the knife's reactivity with fish and acidic ingredients, and helps prevent further rusting.
If the knife does rust, or if the dark grey patina begins to wear on your aesthetic sense, rub the blade with the Windmuehlenmesser rust eraser, or a scouring agent and coarse sponge. This should bring the knife back to its original shine.
A sharp knife is safer and less accident-prone than a dull one, and ideally, straight edged knives should be honed on a steel before each use to straighten the very outer edge of the blade.
Once honing is no longer enough to bring the edge back, it's time to sharpen. Never wait until a knife is truly dull. Carbon steel knives will need to be sharpened less frequently than stainless steel, and it is easier when you do have to. If you aren't comfortable around a sharpening stone, send the knife to a reputable professional. Otherwise, sharpening it yourself will only take two or three strokes on each side (as opposed to ten on a stainless), to bring the edge back.
In Europe, the evolution of the kitchen knife was closely intertwined with sword-making, and Solingen has been synonymous with blades for centuries. To preserve the integrity of this tradition, in 1930, the city issued a decree that commanded any blade that associated with the Solingen name meet high standards for materials and sharpness. Windmuehlenmesser is only one of five companies allowed to associate with the city's pedigree.
In 1872, young up-start Robert Herder, descended from a line of steel tempering workers in Bergische Land, decided to venture beyond tempering into the craft of knife-making. He moved the operation to Solingen, Germany, and founded Windmuehlenmesser. Four generations later, his family still runs the company, and their knives are still made as they were over 100 years ago. The company's sweet and simple motto: "Good knives are made by hand."
Windmuehlenmesser's knives are drop-forged, the traditional European process for forming metal. Huge hammers slam down onto steel bricks heated to thousands of degrees, compressing the metal into heavy and durable knife blanks. In Solingen, you can feel the ground shake when these machines are operating.
After the blanks are formed, the steel is tempered: a heating and cooling process that hardens the metal. This is a critical step, because a harder metal can take a thinner and sharper edge, and the taper grind on Windmuehlenmesser's knives enhance the capacity for sharpness of their metals. The copper cherrywood handles are triple-riveted to the blade extension, then fine-glazed for a smoother surface.
All Windmuehlenmesser's carbon steel knives are handmade by skilled master craftsmen, journeymen and apprentices. Wooden handles are hand-milled on-site, and scrap wood chips are given to paper and particle board manufacturers for reprocessing.
The industry is not waste-free, but Windmuehlenmesser works to keep the amount of waste in their production process as low as possible. Steel scraps left over after the blades have been cut are sent back to the steelworks to be reused. Their grinding shop works in a closed water cycle with nitrate-free coolants for grinding. Fine steel chips in the grinding water and abrasives from the grinding stones are filtered out by an on-site filter, and the water is returned to the cycle.
Rockwell scale, Wikipedia
Carbon Steel Knives, Kaufmann Mercantile References
"Cutting," Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simione Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child
Caring for Carbon Steel Knives, Mizugaeshi
By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers and Olympic Champions, by Richard Cohen, Google Books
Care for Your Kitchen Knives, Kaufmann Mercantile References
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