The Bastion knife maker
Nestled into one of the most beautiful bays in Corsica for over 30 years, Porto-Vecchio has been home to knife maker Jean-Pierre Barillet and his workshop the Bastion. Over the course of his career he has been a boilermaker and a shooting cane manufacturer before finding his true calling as a master of shepherding knives, regardless of the nature of his job, Barillet has always valued intricate craftsmanship, high quality materials and timely innovation. Today, he is one of the best-known, master knife makers of Corsica, the Isle of Beauty.
Originally from the ‘continent’, as Corsicans refer to mainland France, at 14 he joined a boiler making company as an apprentice. After going into advertising, he met the woman who would become his wife and together they decided to go back to Jean-Pierre’s first passion, boiler making.
The couple then launched themselves into the manufacturing of shooting canes, a truly traditional form of weaponry, while simultaneously manufacturing of few models of knives. But in 1993, Europe adopted legislation banning the trade in firearms, which might have the appearance of inoffensive objects. Gone were the shooting canes and Jean-Pierre dedicated himself solely to knife making.
At the time Laguiole style knives were made in a variety of different ways so Jean-Pierre created his own model the « Prestige Argent ». To begin with he made hunting knives to satisfy his mainly hunting clientele, but gradually production intensified and new models appeared, masonic, art-deco, tiger, etc. There were also the Venus and Bacchus models, pieces of chiselled silver with Ronde-bosse decoration, a technique, which involves chiselling the pieces in a very detailed way so that the handles are intricately sculpted to create a 3D work of art.
It is at this moment that the Barillets decided to move to the Mediterranean and adopt the Corsican life.
Set up in Porto Vecchio ever since, they produce around four models a year, from casting the blade to sharpening it, from cutting down the raw olive wood to polishing it. Barillet has always been and still is innovative. The small company has three patents, including one for ‘coup de pouce’, a mechanism with a safety notch, which ensures the safe opening of the blade at the flick of a thumb. It can be found on the U Rircorsu, the U Tempu and the Vendetta models.
To each knife its own character
U Ricorsu means ‘recourse’. This is cause if ever you were to find yourself in the woods, in a dicey situation, stuck in a tree with a bear on its way you would be sure to cut yourself free (and maybe even survive, who knows).
There is also the U Tempu or ‘knife of time’. This knife is the kind that is past from father to son. According to Jean-Pierre, ‘it is useful for everything’ and with the tough blade, it is sure to stand the test of time.
Then there is the Vendetta. This model has been around since 1860, and originally was made with a forced safety notch. Jean-Pierre is proud of having been the first to add a simple locking system, the ‘coup de pouce’ or “thumbflick”, which has since been adapted by the whole profession. He was also the first to create table knives with this shape of blade.
And finally, the Traditionnel. This knife is made from sharp cedar, and doesn’t have a safety notch. It is faithful to the traditional methods of production by Corsican shepherds and blacksmiths. At that time, in the villages, there weren’t any machine tools, so there was nothing to make things like springs. In addition to wooden handles, Bastion knife makers continue to manufacture them with a goat’s horn handle, just as before. This final model is only available on request.