Eat Good Food

Cooking in Poterie Digoin

Founded in 1875, Poterie Digoin originated as a family business in the northern Loire valley, quickly establishing itself as the heart of the French kitchen. Each piece of Digoin stoneware and earthenware is hand-shaped and glazed by artisans, bringing a bit of tradition into the modern home.

Food just tastes better baked in clay. Perhaps it is the even diffusion of heat that coddles the food and brings it to its full potential. Perhaps it’s the accumulation of flavors that build in a particular pot when it is used to cook the same dish time and time again. According to some writers, earthenware transfers gout de terroir, or a “taste of the earth.”

Here is a guide to some of our favorite stoneware pieces from Digoin, with tips from writer, cook, and teacher Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking.

Gratin

The word “gratin” literally means “scratch” or “scrape.” In French family-style farmhouse cooking, dishes were assembled at home in these earthenware vessels and carried to a communal wood-burning bread oven.

Spinach, chard, eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and potatoes are some of the centerpieces of these dishes. To add flavor and form a good top crust, herbs, oil, butter, cream, bread crumbs, and cheese are often added. Additional ingredients might include eggs, meat, poultry, salt cod, or anchovies.

On the sweet side, the depth of these glazed vessels is well-suited to baking fruit cobblers and crisps to highlight fruit at the peak of flavor.

Tian

More oval in shape and slightly shallower than gratins, tians are perfect vessels for showcasing ripe summer vegetables.

For a simple but satisfying dish, assemble layers of small heirloom tomatoes, sweet bulb onions, thin skinned eggplant, and fresh salty cheese such as ricotta or chévre for baking. Wolfert suggests preparing this tian in the morning and serving it no sooner than 6 hours after it has emerged from the oven, at room temperature, to allow flavors to meld.

Unglazed Roaster

Dating back to Roman times, this traditional unglazed terra cotta roaster, known as a “four crétois,” is one of the oldest methods of cooking. Ideal for baking bread, roasting chicken, preparing a stuffed breast of lamb or other tough cuts of meat, the high-domed lid allows air to circulate while keeping heat and steam in.

Prior to each use, soak the roaster in water until thoroughly saturated. When heated in the oven, the clay will first release steam, which keeps the food moist, and then, when all the moisture has evaporated, act as a dry roaster.

While unglazed roasters are easy to clean, sooner or later they will develop clogged pores. To remedy, simply combine ¼ cup distilled white vinegar with two quarts of water, pour into the pot, and let soak overnight. The next day, rinse well and use a natural brush to scour the insides of both the pot and the lid with baking soda and water if necessary. Drain and dry well before storing.

Unglazed Roasting Pot

This French earthenware roaster, known as a “Diable Phenix,” works like a stove-top oven to perfectly roast potatoes, beets, chestnuts, coffee beans, and more without adding water, fat, or oil.

To cook potatoes, place one or two layers of washed and thoroughly dried potatoes inside, add a few tablespoons sea salt, cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the clay turns quite hot. Raise the heat to medium and cook the potatoes for another 45 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally to ensure uniform cooking.

After cooking with the roasting pot, place on a wooden surface or folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Nothing cold should ever touch or be added to the hot pot. To clean, simply wipe out the interior with a dry towel.

Learn more about Manufacture de Digoin Stoneware

Meet the Makers

Manufacture de Digoin Stoneware

The history of Digoin is written in its stoneware — hard but mutable, able to withstand pressure but vulnerable to breakage.

Where 40 ceramics manufacturers using the unique sandstone paste of the Loire once occupied Burgundy’s so-called “Ceramics Valley,” today only a few remain. And perhaps only one of them — Manufacture de Digoin — is experiencing a robust revival.

Until recently, Manufacture de Digoin was no different than the other failing foundries of the Loire, producing as they did such quaint artifacts of the Victorian era as stoneware pipes and planters.

Founded in 1875, at its height the factory employed over 200 people producing stoneware pots and jugs, cooking vessels, and horticultural objects. At one point not too long ago, the factory was most famous for cups that held a popular type of Roquefort cream.

And then, in the 1980s, came the rise of the French super market. The widespread use of plastic packaging. The primacy of the Chinese. Suddenly, not only was packing food in hand-made stoneware pots excessively expensive but it was unfashionable. Production dwindled. Staff numbers went down. Factories closed.

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For its part, Manufacture de Digoin held on longer than most, going into bankruptcy first in 2002 before being rescued a year later and reopening with just 10 skilled workers.

It failed again in 2014, closing its doors in May. But it found an unusual savior this time in the guise of indefatigable former marketing executive Corinne Jourdain Gros.

Working toward a mid-career MBA, Corinne wrote her dissertation on the traditions of French manufacturing, stoking a fascination with companies that exemplify centuries of Gallic culture. Companies like Digoin.

Upon learning of its second bankruptcy, she quickly gathered a cadre of investors to purchase it and, by September of 2014, Manufacture de Digoin was again open.

Hiring back the 10 workers who had been laid off before, Corinne has set about to honor Digoin’s history while making it viable for the modern world.

While the Maille mustard company does package its Dijon in Digoin’s stoneware, the factory can no longer rely on food production work. Rather, it needs to invite and inspire a new generation of those like Corinne, who understand the narrative imbued in the products and are anxious to experience some of that for themselves.

Because Digoin can rely on its history, its artistry, its sense of beauty, and the fresh air of change. Under Corinne’s eye, this venerable brand continues to offer the cookware that is found in well-stocked French kitchens for decades, but now with fresh new glazes and some new forms.

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The resulting stoneware is gorgeous to look at and hold and makes a wonderful addition to any kitchen. Use the Digoin to bake and roast, store homemade vinegar, set to table, contain terrines, and much more.

Made by hand, each piece is unique. Fired at extremely hot temperatures, Digoin glazes are fixed to a unique shine and the ceramics themselves are airtight, which is ideal for baking and roasting.

Digoin is exactly the type of product that SHED exists to purvey and promote. It has a history, a wonderful story, and is meaningful beyond its mere products. Are you ready to begin your collection?