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Not Frères Pottery
A visit to a family-run, artisan French pottery maker
In France, you sometimes don’t know how it’s going to be when you walk into any sort of business, and things can go either way. That’s changed in the past few years, but returning something (which is a cherished way of life in America) can be challenging—at best, depending on the mood of the clerk.
When I quit my internet provider in the States, they apologized that I had to come into their office to bring in the modem and thanked me for my years of business. When I closed my bank account, the staff lined up at the door to say goodbye. I recently had to disconnect my internet service in Paris when I moved, and they informed me it was going to cost €49 and sent a lengthy list of items I needed to return, including obsolete phone cords, before they could determine if I’d get my deposit back…which they’ve been holding onto since 2011.
Thankfully, the next generation in France is changing things and is more user-friendly. (I’m one of the few people in France who likes their banker, and doesn’t dread going into La Poste.) But whether young or old, I’ve always found the genuine artisans in France to be very open about what they do and happy to take time to patiently show and explain to you what they do. I recall when I went to visit Dolin vermouth, the owner showed me the family recipe, written in a quill pen in the 1820s. When I asked if I could take a picture of it, he replied, “Mais oui! It’s not like you’re going to start your own vermouth factory.”
Last summer, we vacationed in the south of France. Since they close for the month of August, when everyone goes on vacation, I’ve always been unable to visit Poterie Not Frères. But since we were winding up our vacation in early September, we managed to make it just after they reopened for the rentrée. (The return or “re-entry” of everybody in France after their vacances.)
It’s located about 45 minutes from Castelnaudary, known for its cassoulet—with its own organization to protect it. When we walked inside the poterie, almost immediately the owner, Jean-Pierre, beckoned us to come back to the studio where he throws the pottery.
Seated at a wheel next to him was his son, Romain, and both welcomed us as if we were old friends, even though we’d never been there before. I told them that I’ve wanted to visit ever since I read about them in an old issue of Saveur magazine (in 2007), and they were happy that I finally made it. And after all that time, so was I!
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And there we were, finally, standing in front of the two potters, mesmerized while they transformed a lump of clay into cassoles, the traditional dish for preparing cassoulet in, one after the other. They were calmly going about their work, and every cassole that came off the wheel was a work of art. I wondered aloud if they took on apprentices, and they replied, “Sure!”
Jean-Pierre and his son, Romain, sat behind their spinning wheels, each in front of their own window with gorgeous filtered light spilling in, everything around them covered with splattered clay. Part of me wanted to tidy things up, but a bigger part of me didn’t want to touch anything.
Each cassole took less than a minute to create, and the father and son team certainly made the job look easy. I remember when I tried to learn to make the vrai (true) buckwheat galette (crêpe) from Brittany at Breizh Café, which is made with only buckwheat flour and water (no eggs, no milk, no wheat flour), and my attempts on the round, flat billig (griddle) were an unruly mess, and the batter flowed whichever way it wanted to, despite my trying to rein it in with the wooden spatula.
They told me not to worry, that it took about a week to learn how to make them, as I slunk away, only slightly less embarrassed by my efforts when they told me that.
The history of Not Frères dates back to 1857, and it is now the only handmade pottery in the region. Emile Not and his brother-in-law, François, bought the poterie in 1959 from another family after a devastating fire. With Romain now working with his father, the fourth generation of the family is still making each and every piece of pottery that they sell.
Since we had a bit of a drive ahead of us, we originally planned to make a quick stop at the pottery after going to the market in Mirepoix, which is a lovely village, but I had a disappointing (which is being kind…) version of cassoulet for lunch:
It made Jean-Pierre wince when I told him about my unfortunate lunch*. In the end, we spent 2 1/2 hours at the pottery (and about 2 1/2 days to digest that cassoulet), not only talking to Jean-Pierre and Romain but also marveling at the pottery that was everywhere, in all ranges of colors, shapes, and sizes.
I didn’t go there just to say hi and meet the family; I went to shop. Over the years, my friends Forest and Kate have brought me a few pieces of pottery from there, but I wanted more…and it was hard to resist buying at least one of everything.
I’d done a massive clean-out before moving apartments last summer, and while I vowed not to get anything else, who could blame me for not stocking up?
Romain and I don’t have the same taste in colors, and he kept handing me ivory-colored pots while I was stacking up blue, green, and mustard-yellow ones. I just find the colorful ones more cheerful.
One thing the fellow who was glazing the pottery told me when I asked was: “We don’t have seconds.” So all the pots, dishes, and jugs retain any irregularities such as glaze skips and drips, droopy spouts, and minor bumps and bruises. The cassoles (above) are sold in very good condition, but you’ll want to take a look at anything you plan to buy that’s stacked up inside or out. I don’t mind having unique pieces; each piece of handmade pottery has its own personality.
That was especially true of the mini-cassoles, below, which were only €5 each. (€5!) Each one was definitely a one-of-a-kind, and I now own at least eight-of-a-kind.
When all was said and done, I wasn’t ready to go, but leave we must.
Jean-Pierre did an A+ job packing everything up (#experience), and Romain tucked it into the trunk, then we drove away, heading back to Paris on the autoroute.
When I got home, I unwrapped everything and gave the new additions to our home a good cleaning. And now, we’re using them every day, and I’m glad to say that they feel like part of our family.
Poterie NOT Frères
1851 Route de Labastide
Tél: 04 68 23 17 01
Opening hours are Monday through Friday, 8am to noon and 2pm to 6pm. Closed weekends and during the month of August, for a week or so before and after Christmas, and the first few days of September.
(Note that hours are subject to change, and you should call first before arriving to confirm their opening hour or check their Instagram page.)
-The pottery doesn’t accept credit cards for payment (checks from a French bank are okay), and they don’t ship.
-The pottery can be purchased at Languedoc Céramique in Montferrand and L’Atelier de la Poterie in Castelnaudry. (Pro tip: While I’m sure none of them ship out of the country, if you’re visiting France, perhaps you can put in an order and have them ship it to your hotel or a friend in France.)
-One thing we did discover about the pottery after we started using it, is that the bottoms are quite rough and unglazed, and will scratch surfaces if dragged across them. Romain sanded a few of them down, but I recommend you place them on a cloth or something similar if using them on a table or surface that you want to protect.
*Jean-Pierre gave me the address of Hostellerie Etienne in Labastide d’Anjou for cassoulet, which I’m definitely going to go to next time around. If you want to give making Cassoulet a go at home, my recipe is in my book, My Paris Kitchen.
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