• Arte cisoria and mastering the art of the knive

    Do you know the feeling when you start with something on your to-do list and you realize you have no idea what you´re doing? Or that you still have quite a lot to learn, which doesn´t sound as bad. When you´re listening to ´the expert´, and the only thing you can do is nod and make sounds, like: ooh, uh-huh, sure…

    Well, that´s what recently happened to me when I took some kitchen knives to the sharpener at the local market. I have to admit that he had quite some things to teach me about the matter. Half the knives I brought weren´t even worth sharpening anymore, the pour things.

    Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

    While I was listening to the master himself explain about the sharpening techniques and the correct use of knives and scissors, my eyes wandered around the shop, with all its instruments, until suddenly a very interesting object came into my sight: a dark book with gold lettering. It was titled: “Arte cisoria, o Arte del cortar del cuchillo”, which means something like: The art of mastering a cutting knife. Even though the first edition came out during the sixteenth century, the manuscript was already written by Enrique de Villena in 1423, as commissioned by Sancho de Jarava, who was in charge of cutting the royal meals of the king Don Juan II.

    Arte del cortar del cuchillo, 1763. Biblioteca Nacional de España.

    It was intended as a useful book, describing the science behind the cutting techniques, and bringing it closer to the work of a surgeon that to that of a cook. The master of the knife was both key to the monarchs diet and to the presentation of the food or the ceremonial aspects around the table. And besides that, the manuscript also includes a few images, showing us some of the different tools a professional cutter needed.

    Taking a look at this manuscript, we can agree that the cutter is asked to be a connoisseur, to know his job perfectly, or at least try to, as much as possible. Isn´t this exactly what we need to look for when we take some knives to sharpen them, for example? It´s essential to be able to count on professionals at our local markets. They need us, especially nowadays, and it is clear we also need them.

    With these kinds of visits to the market, I usually take something else home, something great and intangible, besides the food in my shopping bag. What do you take with you when you come home from the market?