The Le Creuset dishes I've accumulated over the years get a lot of love in my kitchen, from the classic 5 qt. oven to my treasured tarte tatin pan. So when I was invited to visit the Le Creuset foundry, in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France, the birthplace of this iconic cookware, where all of the company's cast iron products have been produced since 1925, I jumped at the chance!

Paul Van Zuydam, the Chairman of the company, bought Le Creuset in 1987 at a time when it was unclear whether or not the company would survive. Not only did he bring it back to life, he managed to turn it into one of the most prestigious cookware companies in the world.

After a 2 hour drive north out of Paris (and a lovely lunch with Paul Van Zuydam of quiche, salad, cured meats and local cheeses), we entered the lobby, complete with a mini museum with some classic pieces since retired, like these yellow beauties from 1945-1955.

retro yellow

Frédéric Sallé, the most affable plant manager, gave us the tour of the foundry, which recently expanded just in time for the company's 90th anniversary. I was so impressed by how he warmly interacted with the workers like they were family.

Our first sight upon entry to the factory was bins full of Dutch Ovens and skillets. Be still my heart! We were all a bit floored when we found out they were seconds, soon be melted down and re-cast.

reject pots

It was then on to a giant cauldron, where the iron and carbon mixture must be melted to 2732°F before molding into pots and pans. It's tested regularly to be sure it has no impurities. If it's not just the right balance of minerals, the enamel may not seal onto the iron during glazing.

casting the pot

Then the iron travels through pipes, into molds made with black sand.

just out of the sand mold

Once cast, the pots are turned out of the sand molds.

freshly minted, covered with black sand

The sand is brushed off, then the pots well cleaned to be sure all of the sand has been removed. The sand is then recycled and used again to mold more pots.

rough edge

Once clean, the rough edges must be sanded smooth. This is done by machine. Here is Frederick showing us the rough edges, holding a pot still hot from the oven

a portion of the color wall

Then for a quick tour of the color room! They are constantly working on developing new colors. How do you decide what color to choose?!? They are all so beautiful.

Marseille is my color, but I am so loving the new Matte Navy and Ink, they're just so elegant. But those greens! And there's a sweet new pink that's coming out. It's just so hard to decide.

We then moved on to the glazing and firing.

barrel of glaze

1 barrel of glaze is enough for 400 pots

green enamled lid

The pale glaze is sprayed on first to coat the top, then the darker green is sprayed over around the edges to create the two-toned effect. Now it's ready for the kiln.

boxed up

Boxes filled with Dutch ovens in the original color, Flame, ready to go.

It takes about 10 hours to make 1 pot, from molding to glazing to kiln to cooling to into the box.

The hardest thing about heading out of the factory? Leaving all of that beautiful cookware behind! And trying to remind myself that I really don't need a set of every thing they make, right?

By Janet McCracken