Family members often find themselves pining for heirlooms—rings, watches, quilts and so on. But who'd elbow a sibling out of the way to get a cast-iron cooking pot? Well, if it's a Le Creuset pot, you'd be surprised. Just ask Will Copenhaver. "We see cases where Le Creuset is written into people's wills," said Copenhaver, who serves as the French cookware company's director of marketing communications. "I was just talking to someone who'd gone through a divorce, and on top of the list of things he got to keep was the Le Creuset cookware."
Unless you're a true foodie, this kind of devotion is hard to explain. But in the realm of the home cook, few implements are more sacred than a Le Creuset French Oven. It's hard to find a food blog that doesn't praise the smart little pot—"the Swiss Army knife of cookware," said one—which can sauté, brown, bake or boil just about anything. Cookbook author Holly Herrick has written that, if her house caught fire, she'd save her pets first, then her Le Creuset pots. Julia Child cooked with Le Creuset, and The Independent has called it "a brand so synonymous with France that one of its flame-orange casserole dishes might as well adorn the national coat of arms."
Ah yes, that orange color. Born in France during the dining-out craze of the Jazz Age and amid the culinary revolution led by Auguste Escoffier, Le Creuset started in 1925 when casting expert Armand Desaegher joined forces with enameler Octave Aubecq to produce an enameled cocotte that would combine the heating properties of cast iron with the beauty and durability of enamel. Transfixed by the molten iron as it cooled in its wet-sand mold, Aubecq developed a rich colored orange glaze to match the color. Today, 91 years later, Le Creuset (which means "the crucible") is still made in the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand. It is still poured into wet-sand molds. And it still produces its signature orange color—called Flame—in addition to 30 others.
But the world is full of heritage products, so why is Le Creuset—which has scarcely changed the design of its pots—still a trendy brand? Part of it is authenticity. The iron's still cast in France—and at considerable expense. (Company owner Paul Van Zuydam has groused that France is "the most expensive country to operate in" but dares not move his foundry to Asia.)
But the key ingredient is food itself. "All cultures have dishes cooked over long periods with simple ingredients, and that resonates emotionally across generations," Copenhaver said. In nearly everyone, he adds, the one-pot meal evokes "memories of what it means to make something nurturing—and we live in that world."
This story first appeared in the March 21 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.