Thursday, January 15, 2009

Olvida Cookware

I'm a metal guy. I love all things made of metal. And my passion is lowly cast iron. On the cooking side, I have quite a complement of cast iron pots and pans, perhaps even too many. I've had the good fortune to tour the Lodge factory where most of today's US made pans are made. Lately I've been cooking with a cast iron pan at least three times a week and loving it more and more with each time. So I really perked up when I saw a new type of cast iron pan mentioned in passing on PBS' cooking show Cook's Country.

This new pan is not black but shiny bright. It's made by a company called Olvida. What makes Olvida's cast iron cookware different is that their pans are nickel plated. The reviewers on the television show passed on this pan because of its expense but the fact that someone could reinvent the cast iron pan which has existed for millennia caught me hook, line and sinker.

Some quick research confirmed that yes, this stuff is quite pricey, but really good cookware is. To compare, a 10" Olivida skillet from Chef's Resource is $99.95. A 10" Lodge skillet from Wal-Mart is $13.97. Wow!!! Not enough yet though to turn me off, if the quality is there. At first glance Lodge has two advantage for me, price and made in the USA. Just being an industry insider, I know there is no way the Olivda pans are made in the US, probably China.

I should probably take a moment to go a little sideways here and explain my feelings on China. While I rant and rave about China, I don't hate the Chinese. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. I love their history, their culture, their beliefs. I can say that my very limited understanding of Tao has had an impact on my life (I read Eva Wong's book cover to cover and refer back to it often). What I do hate, and with proper use of the word "hate," is the their government, their business practices, their manufacturing practices and their human rights practices. But most of all I hate OUR country's shipping of jobs, income and products to China, devastating our economies, our families, our security. That's what I hate.

Lodge makes 99% of all cast iron cookware made in the US. If you see, buy, or own any cast iron cookware made in the last 10-20 years that does not say Lodge on the back, it was made in China. My fear with Chinese cast iron cookware is the potential lead content. I had a friend of mine who works in a foundry send me some lab results on some cast iron his company had purchased from China. These castings were not for skillets but who knows what any given Chinese foundry also produces. On these tests of a random sample the lead level was 0.004%. Most US foundries will run the potential of high scrap with those lead levels and those castings would never go out the door. But we are regulated here in the US, not so in China. The lead is elemental, so if lead is present in cookware, it could leach out. That's why I don't buy Chinese cast iron cookware. Lodge's enamel ware by the way is made in China. While the enamel would protect the iron, you need to ask yourself what is the potential lead content in the enamel from China or what if the enamel chips and you continue to cook with it?

Yesterday I had a wonderful phone conversation with the owner of Olvida. And yes, my assumption was correct, the raw castings come from China. I can't blame him from a business perspective, the cost of a pan is 1/3 what a domestic foundry would charge. He does have a double edge sword though. The Chinese castings have a high scrap rate and he can't return them. After discussing with the owner his unique process, I feel much better about buying an Olvida pan even if they originate in China. The nickel coating permanently bonds to the iron surface, sealing it and eliminating any risk of potential lead leaching out into food.

All of the finishing of the pan is done in North Carolina. It is quite a labor intensive job which explains part of the price but also means at least a few American employees are making a buck. The coating's use on cast iron was originally developed for the automotive industry but it is the same coating used on many nickel plated pieces of equipment in the food and pharmaceutical industries. The coating is not pure nickel so any fears of nickel allergies can be put to rest. The process is technically called Electroless Nickel (EN) coating and uses a nickel-phosphorous alloy. The coating makes the pans non-stick, non-reactive and scratch resistant. The big selling point to me is that the Olvida pans are NSF certified. This means that they can be run through a dishwasher, a requirement for restaurants. You can't do that with regular cast iron. Think about that next time you order fajitas.

So the newest thing on my wish list is a 10" Olvida skillet. I hope that it will exceed my expectations. If I get one, I'll report back. If it exceeds my expectations, I'll probably have some Lodgeware I'll be selling.

11 comments:

Brook said...

How bizarre, I shared a rather long comment that started with I agree and ended with I love shoes. I am unable to reconstruct it at this time but wow, I wonder where it went!

Huff Daddy said...

BTDT... too funny.

Brook said...

Um, what does BDTD mean? Cause I am not a texter and stuff? And I am sure that as soon as I try to sleep I will remember verbatim what I wrote.

Huff Daddy said...

Been There Done That. I'm not really a texter either, I only know a few shortcuts.

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Tanya said...

Came across your blog while researching Olvida. Did you ever buy one or even just cook with one? Would love to hear about your experience. I love cast iron too but am considering using it in a school kitchen setting where volunteers do the washing. My cast iron has endured many a rusty afternoon as a result. Thanks for sharing your experience with it.

sean said...

I use Olvida Cookware just about everyday. I have purchased several of there pans after first falling in love with their 10" skillet. Bought the griddle and dutch oven. I use it everywhere, on the grill, tailgating or camping, and just on the stove. It cooks great but as lazy as i am not having to worry about cleaning and seasoning on those party days its great. No rust in the morning either. Just clean it when i get up. I don't think I'll ever have to buy new pans and I've been through several of the major brands.

Fantus said...

Really awesome post ! I bought a skillet at a yard sale last week, googled to figure out how to clean it up, and ended up here! Thanks so much for all of this information! Thanks !

Chari said...

Thanks for the info, but I never claimed this is "authentic". I merely went by information gathered from the Internet. As stated, I have never been to Iceland to have the "real deal". Maybe someday. I combined 2 recipes linked in post. Quite a few of the recipes I found used rennet, so that's what I did... and it works well for me.

Kuch Kuli said...

Informative post ! so so useful post ! I’ve been hearing about nikel-plated cast iron cookware. It’s a non-stick surface, dishwasher-safe, doesn’t require seasoning, like regular cast iron and you can use steel wool on it.Thanks !

Rita Woods said...

Great post ! I suspect I may have bought a fake/reproduction Wagner Ware Sidney O skillet from ebay. Do you have any advice for how I can know for sure before sending it back?
Thanks!!!!