What you should know before purchasing a Berti Product
Before buying un Berti knife you absolutely need to have certain information.
Those who start, finish.
Those who start, finish. And sign them with their initials. Declaring their Value.
At Coltellerie Berti, each knife is produced by the hands of a single craftsman, the same person who starts a knife, finishes it. This is the essence of the Craftsmanship Method of the Berti Family which since 1895 has kept alive the joy of owning a truly crafted knife in the wake of the most authentic Tradition, with work done in a truly human manner. To state this forcefully, each Berti knife bears on its blade the initials of the craftsman who produced it.
Throughout the 1940s, horn from the Maremma district of Tuscany was used, and the poor economy of those days made it necessary to use every part of the horn, whether valuable or not.
After WWII, horns from Maremma were no longer available, and knife makers began to use horns from Romagna. In the early Sixties, Mr Santandrea delivered us the last load of “Romagnole” which we still remember well.
Then the horns from Romagna met the same fate as those from Maremma: every day they became smaller, thinner and without a full tip, until they quickly became impossible to use. In the early Nineties, we decided to use only tip horn, the full end of an ox horn, just removing parts of it, without heating or crushing it, so as to keep the fullest colour and structure of the horn.
Since it is by now impossible to receive Italian horn we only use imported horn: the best ox horn comes from certain central African plateaux with much grass and water, where there are no endemic illnesses which could compromise the quality of the horn.
Water buffalo horn must be purchased in India because it is the very best quality.
After it has been imported, the horn – whether ox or water buffalo - must be slowly aged for at least 24 months in order to stabilise its humidity content.
In any case, the horn we use is always scrap from slaughter of animals who have finished their working lives in the fields, enough to allow the horns to grow fully thus allowing us to obtain the best quality of horn without any direct or further sacrifice of animals.
Ox horn owes its splendid colours to the random combination of 18 amino acids which oxen assume through their nutrition (6,402,373,705,728,000 different combinations!), making it virtually impossible to have two handles with the same colour or flaming. This is why the knives appearing in the pictures will never be the same, in terms of colour or flaming, as the ones you will receive. Gathered in small quantities over very large territories, the hues (light, dark, green brown, transparent, yellow, white etc...) are affected by the food the oxen find in their habitat. If you have specific preferences, you can write them in the notes accompanying your order, but we can in no way guarantee that we will be able to fulfil your request.
We use a special AISI 420 (440 A) stainless steel, which affords the advantage of being especially rich in carbon (>0.53%) and of having molybdenum and vanadium additions which make it an excellent cutting steel for knives for what we may call normal use, that is everyday use in the kitchen, at the table and in other cutting actions requiring pocket knives.
This kind of steel has a hardness up to 55- 57 HRC and a very fine granulometry which make for a long lasting and easily maintained cutting edge.
Some of our blades are obtained by shearing while others are forged, but in any case the distinguishing element is the cutting edge, made through three entirely manual steps which confer the absolutely best geometry on the cutting edge for knives assigned to normal use, as described above.
The cut is soft and not aggressive, and food under the blade seems to break up spontaneously. Furthermore, the edge wears out following a definite geometry, so one can continue to cut for a long time and in the most enjoyable way.
Even though stainless, the better steel cuts the less it is rustproof, and in some cases, if left exposed in damp and aggressive environments (especially if left to dry in the washing machine) can present small rust-like red spots. These are not actually rust, since there is no loss of material. They sometimes disappear after another careful wash, other times it may be necessary to ship the knife back to us for more intense cleaning.
Always used to make the simplest country knives, although one sometimes finds ones with carved or sculpted handles. Today, it is used in sophisticated production for people looking for a knife of their own which is poetic, humble, yet very beautiful in its elegant simplicity, with an ancient look, yet incredibly useful in modern contexts.
An extra touch which makes this material fascinating is how it changes colour naturally through time, going from an early yellow-orange to an ever more intense and warmer hazel.
Due to the scarcity of available material and the small size of box trees, only small-handled knives can be made of Italian boxwood. Boxwood also comes in large boards, which however belong to species different from the very beautiful Italian Buxus Sempervirens: for example Buxus Balearica which grows in the Spanish peninsula, but its appearance – colour and grain – has little in common with our Buxus. Especially, boxwood growing on the Apennines between Tuscany and Emilia have a yellow-orange hue with light hazel spots, knots and small cracks which are unequalled by any other kind of Boxwood.
Larger handles (kitchen knives) need Brazilian or Russian boxwood, the appearance of which resembles that of the Italian kind.
“Under conditions of heat, cast Polymethyl Metacrylate (PMMA) has an isotropic behaviour, with a maximum contraction in every direction of 2% in every direction; whereas extruded, its contraction varies depending on thickness and direction of extrusion”.
This sentence, which may seem cryptic to many, explains why Coltellerie Berti chose a specific kind of Polymethyl Metacrylate to make its knife handles. After a negative experience, we gave up using extruded PMMA, that is the kind obtained by injecting molten grains into moulds at high temperature: though economically advantageous (more finished handles at every moulding), it inevitable breaks when put in the washing machine, because its behaviour, when heated, is uncontrollable.
We therefore chose cold cast PMMA, more expensive and difficult to work with, obtained by adding a cold catalyst to a sirupy resin (polymethyl acrylate), transparent and strong smelling. The liquid coming from this blend may be coloured by incorporating a colouring substance before the catalyst. This makes a material with steady properties through time, which does not turn yellow or age, and keeps an unchanged shine.
Poured into formwork, after plasticisation (generation of long chains of macro-molecules) it becomes a stiff and glossy slab, with slightly irregular thickness, which can be processed and modelled by hand through removal, applying the manner and form of the typical “Berti Method” for traditional materials.
Finally, in order to control inevitable shrinking, Coltellerie Berti has invented a exclusive stabilising process to prevent breakage in the washing machine.
Smooth or saw edge
Making knives with serration is a rather recent custom, especially in the manufacture of kitchen and table knives.
When cutting food, one can see that a smooth edge is more pleasant and cleaner when cutting, though this will mean it is more costly to buy and maybe needs to be sharpened a little more often.
It may seem a bit intellectual to feel uncomfortable when using our teeth to rip the food we are going to eat on the plate, submitting it to a further useless sacrifice (before it came to our dish, it was an animal or a vegetable which sacrificed its life to nourish us); but it is surely more immediate to note that when we cut meat, vegetables and cheese using serrated knives, fluids come out which contain a major part of the flavour and nourishment which instead of being eaten, will stay in the dish.
Normally, knives made using industrial techniques, or which are produced in large quantities, come out of the factory with the edge only set or made using automatic sharpeners which ensure constant but not excellent quality. The reason for this lies in the high cost of hand sharpening and in the difficulty of being able to count on a sufficient number of craftsmen able to sharpen a high number of knives properly and with constant quality.
Knife sharpening is certainly no exact science, and it is not possible to turn it into something irrefutable.
In practice, every knife maker has his own theory which is the result of direct experience, of comparison with the experience of others and of monitoring his own results.
To see how difficult it is to measure the quality of sharpening, one may note that there are machines which measure how long a the blade keeps tis cut, but none that provide information on how “enjoyable” the cut is.
At Coltellerie Berti we are sure of the quality of our sharpening which we make in three totally manually steps, in order to provide a softly convex geometry to the cutting edge. This sharpening makes a cut which is apparently not very aggressive, but is long lasting and pleasant: food which undergoes this “soft” cutting seems to break up spontaneously without suffering the “violence” of a blade. The edge also wears out according to a geometry which allows it to go on cutting for a long time.
About Coltellerie Berti
Coltellerie Berti is a company of craftsmen knifemakers, established in 1895 by David Berti, which for four unbroken generations – starting with David Berti, then David's son Severino, then Severino's son Alvaro, and today with Alvaro's son Andrea – goes on producing knives in the same place, in Italy, and with the same strict compliance with the Tradition of Berti Craftsmanship handed down in the Berti Family.
Why does the Berti Tradition matter?
Because we cannot live without Tradition. On a spiritual level, in a whirlwind of changing times and customs, each of us needs tangible, true and authentic evidence of something that does not and will not change, of our own past and history, since this allows each of us to remember the world we come from and the values which generated it.
What are the material benefits of the Berti Tradition?
In terms of practical use, the Berti Tradition reminds us that there are values which are different from and more important than those typical of modern consumerism - universal use, low cost, no need for maintenance, together with frequent purchase of replacements. The values of the Berti Tradition are, specific use, quality and correctness of the cut safeguarding ingredients, food and work in the kitchen, a soft and pleasant cut, duration through time and hence preservation and perpetuation of value, and finally the joy of providing maintenance to tools born to last and not to be thrown away after a short period of unsatisfactory use.
Why do Coltellerie Berti knives cost more than other knives?
Industrial knives are cheaper than those of Coltellerie Berti. This is not only due to different models, materials and country of production, but to the obvious reason that machines cost less than skilled craftsmen, properly employed and in a context which calls for absolute respect for the dignity of human labour. Coltellerie Berti knives can also be less cheap than other knives which have been produced in a non-industrial manner, because strict compliance with the Berti Tradition does not allow for any compromise through seeking solutions which can cut down production and hence sales costs.
Whom does the Coltellerie Berti Tradition address?
All those who instinctively, in their hearts, recognise the superior beauty and splendor of the Berti Tradition and who, in their heads, reflect on and recognise its value and the need for it, and are therefore happy to joyfully accept tools which were born to cut accurately and softly, but are also able to whisper to us who we are.