The invitation was made some time ago, but we had not yet had the opportunity to go to Caldas da Rainha. However, everything happens for a reason and arrives at the right time. The team at the Mar d’Estórias shop took advantage of the remaining holidays to finally visit the “brand new” Bordallo Pinheiro factory. Because despite being centennial, the brand has just built a new factory, with bigger and better equipped facilities, ready to follow the new direction of the company.
We had the privilege, and the great joy, of being the first to visit and to hear the fantastic stories of the products that we sell every day in our shop. We received a warm welcome from Vanda, Sandra and the Managing Director Tiago Mendes, who accompanied us on a guided tour.
Just past the showroom where we were welcomed, after walking past a whole host of the ceramic pieces, we quickly realize that naming this place a factory it is probably not the right word. At Bordallo Pinheiro, we can now guarantee that all parts are made by hand!
We start with the creative office where ideas are discussed and where tests and moulds are made for new parts. Then, in the moulding of the raw material, we could see the famous sardines being prepared. They are made individually, in moulds filled with great precision and, after some drying time, are demolded, the joints carefully verified and trimmed. The shapes must be perfectly clean and used to produce a maximum of 10 sardines per day. For this reason, it is possible to perceive the detail of the whole process. You can’t miss a millimetre; this is because they then go to the room where several ladies apply the decal in the various designs. And everything has to turn out perfect. Vibrant colours appear after cooking and glazing; without seeing it is hard to believe that the colours are different before and after baking in the oven.
Throughout the tour, we listen to the warm and proud description of James, and we feel that it comes from someone who is passionate about what he does and the team he manages. There are almost three hundred workers, yet it still feels like a family environment. Many of these employees have been in the company for decades, and many younger people are now trained to continue the brand’s know-how and legacy.
Isabel, in another room, joins together the various pieces of a giant lizard. It should be noted that most of the parts are moulded separately and then manually assembled, she attaches wings, paws, tails or heads carefully, sealing the joints, fanning the details in a completely handmade way. There are workbenches with wheels, similar to those of old potters, where the pieces are finished by the hands of these ladies. In the painting room, the pieces are once again painted one by one, by hand. Then dried in several trays, supported by custom-made dyes of each piece, to prevent them from falling before being cooked. All are taken in trolleys to the oven then removed and pulled very carefully, very slowly. The glazing process is also handmade, done piece by piece. Machines are here to aid in methods, but they do not replace human hands and knowledge in any of the steps.
We feel a warmth, commitment and pride and we understand the importance of knowing how everything is done, of valuing manual work and the Portuguese product, especially the one that carries decades of stories.
When we return to the room where we started the trip, we also feel this pride, this value and the desire to transmit it to those who ask us in the shop, without even dreaming about how many hands were needed: “Where are these sardines made?”
Our thanks to Engineer Tiago Mendes, Vanda Carreiro and Sandra Fidalgo for welcoming us and accompanying us on this trip.