Scot Columbus is a family-owned business which began importing hand made products from various South and Central American countries in 1992. Over the years the business developed a close relationship with families of artisans in one small village in the Andes of Colombia who made a very unusual kind of pottery.
Working closely with the villagers, introducing new production techniques to improve quality, and creating a broad range of new designs, Scot Columbus were able to evolve a more durable and versatile product which they named “tierra negra”, meaning “black earth” in Spanish. The name and associated icon have since been registered as a trade mark by Scot Columbus.
At the same time, the business began work on developing a market for the product in Europe, making people more aware of the unusual properties of tierra negra® and its suitability as both cookware and tableware. In particular, attention was drawn to the fact that unlike most other ceramic cookware products, tierra negra® could be used over direct heat on the hob without the need for a diffuser. Most other ceramics would crack if exposed to the direct heat that tierra negra® is able to withstand.
Handmade from nothing more than clay, tierra negra® can also be accurately described as organic. No artificial chemicals of any description are used in its production. Unlike most other ceramic ovenware it has a natural clay glaze rather than a vitreous glaze. It is this, and the particular combination of clays used in its production, that makes tierra negra® safe to use both in the oven and over direct heat on the hob – gas, electric, Aga or ceramic. It can also be used under the grill and in the microwave and can be washed safely in the dishwasher. Cooks love it because it retains its heat so well and enhances the flavour of the food. Its attractive black satin finish also makes it ideal for serving food on the table and even for eating from directly.
The cookware is well known throughout Colombia and is used in many top city restaurants for serving traditional dishes. Its origins can be traced back at least 700 years to vases and pitchers found in pre-Colombian archaeological sites. It is still made in the traditional manner, mostly by the women in a few small villages, each piece being moulded into shape by hand rather than spun on a wheel.
The body of each piece is made from a coarse clay which is dark grey in colour. A finer terracotta clay, the colour of which derives from the presence of iron in the form of Ferric Oxide, or rust, is then applied thinly over the entire surface as a glaze. After drying, this is burnished with very smooth pebbles of semi-precious stones such as Tiger’s Eye. It is the skill and the time spent in polishing which distinguishes the finer from the more rustic produce.
After baking in the sun, the cookware is placed inside earthenware urns and fired in large earth kilns. A coarse organic dust of dried herbs and grasses is thrown into the urns immediately after firing. This burns rapidly and reduces the Ferric Oxide in the glaze to Ferrosoferric Oxide, which is black.
Sometimes, depending on how and when the dust is added, patches on the surface may retain their original terracotta colour. The process by which the glaze turns black is also reversible if the cookware is exposed to intense heat in the presence of oxygen. This explains the reddish brown patches which may appear on the base of a vessel after heating on the hob for a long time.
Traditionally the cookware was produced almost entirely by women, and although some men now help, negotiation on price and design is still controlled by the women. As demand has increased, they have gained more and more economic independence and this has enhanced their role in the running of the villages.
Scot Columbus, who import the cookware to Europe, have evolved a fair trade policy to ensure that this development continues and that supply keeps pace with demand. An advance payment of up to 50% is made on all orders. Prices are reviewed annually and increased in line with inflation. Higher prices are also paid for good quality and orders completed on time.
Scot Columbus have placed special emphasis on quality control and on product testing to ensure that tierra negra® is safe to use in the modern kitchen. To this end, laboratory tests have been carried out in the UK to check that the product meets the standards of the relevant UK legislation on the use of ceramics for cooking and serving food. In particular, the product complies with the Ceramic Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2006.
Tests have also been carried out to verify that it is microwave and dishwasher safe and that it has the resistance to thermal shock necessary for it to withstand rapid heating over a direct source of heat.