Now there is something to chew on. What common household item do you hold in your hands and put in your mouth 50 times a day? It’s more than your toothbrush. When was the last time you thought about it?
I haven’t paid much attention to cutlery since I bought it 30 years ago. He was just there in the box, waiting to deliver food to my mouth, which I appreciate. But recently I discovered that I have half as many forks and spoons as knives. What happened? We started with the same amount of each.
“The forks ran away with the spoons!” I cried to Greg Owens, co-owner of Sherrill Manufacturing, the last remaining cutlery manufacturer in the US, so I thought he cared. (You understand, but I feel good supporting American-made goods.)
Owens, who, unlike me, does think a lot about cutlery, has heard this before. “Forks and spoons are often lost in trash cans, lunch bags, on picnics and camping trips,” he said, and then moved on to a little history.
He told me how he and his partner Matthew Roberts, both veterans of the steel business, became energized when Oneida Limited, one of the world’s leading cutlery manufacturers, closed its US factory in 2005, which had been making silverware since 1860 (remember Abraham Lincoln) and transferred all operations abroad.
“Oneida could buy prefabricated cutlery made in China for less than metal to make their products in the United States, so they left,” Owens said.
Owens and Roberts took over production, continued to hire many workers, and named the new operation Sherrill Manufacturing after the New York City where it is based. A few years later, they began making Liberty Tabletop cutlery, which now sells 33 models online direct to consumers.
Now, attentive readers will recall that last week’s columns about household items not to buy online included cutlery. You must see and feel it in person before committing. You won’t get objections from Owens, who encourages customers to order samples. However, selling directly online allows the Liberty to compete on price with imports. “We can bypass retail stores, which often take up to 70% of profits,” he said.
Considering that 90% of cutlery sold in America today comes from China, Owens proudly says, “We are 100% American. We use hydropower from Niagara Falls, we get the metal from Pittsburgh so we know it’s up to US quality standards, not mystery metal, and we’re giving jobs to Americans.”
But back to me.
I still had a major problem with the fork and spoon. I checked online with Unlimited Replacements, which sells single china, crystal and silverware items for people who have broken or lost items or have gaps in their sets. Unsuccessfully. I found the brand of my old cutlery, but not the style.
Which meant only one thing: new cutlery. When I started buying something that I hadn’t bought in decades and probably would never buy again, I figured I better know what I should be looking for. Here is what I found does the reduction:
• Material: The key quality to look for when choosing stainless steel cutlery is the metal content. The reverse side is usually stamped with the words 18/10, 18/8 or 18/0. This ratio represents the amount of chromium to nickel in the metal alloy. Nickel (second number) adds shine and durability to cookware and reduces susceptibility to pitting, rust, clouding and staining. Since nickel is expensive, many manufacturers save money. Most imports today are 18/0, said Owens, whose company only makes 18/10 cutlery.
• Production quality: In addition to the ratio of metals, another way to judge cutlery is the quality of its finish. Details should have an even sheen without pitting, uneven pattern detail, or areas that appear worn or over-polished. Look between the tines of the fork. A low quality product will show roughness there.
• Style: Cutlery design is divided into three categories. There is modern, sleek and streamlined, with little or no pattern. Traditional, which often has floral patterns, decorative swirls, and curved outlines. And decorative, when the pens include textures such as embossed, dotted or woven effects, or colored non-metal pens, which tend to be less durable. Choose something that you won’t get tired of. However, Liberty offers a sibling line with fun motifs including skulls (a hit with bikers), Celtic heritage and Woodstock (a hippie memory).
• Finish: Today, cutlery comes in polished, brushed, or decorative finishes. The smoother the finish and the simpler the pattern, the more fingerprints, dents and scratches it will have, “and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Owens said. Patterned cutlery is more forgiving.
• The size: Cutlery sizes fall into two main camps: the American standard and the European standard. American standard cutlery is usually an inch smaller than European cutlery. For example, an American standard plug is about 7 inches, while its European counterpart is 8 inches. While some US consumers still prefer traditional US sizes, there is a trend towards less ornate, larger, heavier pieces known in the industry as European sizes. The only way to find out what you like best is to try before you buy.
Because there’s more to this story, join me next week as my husband and I test out four cutlery sets and discover, and sometimes disagree, their intricacies.
Marnie Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including Shrinking the Family Home – What to Keep, What to Let Go. Reach her in marnijameson.com.