When bone china was developed by English potters during the mid-18th century, it was an attempt to build on the long-standing porcelain tradition invented in China. East Asia’s hard-paste porcelain was at once sturdy and delicate, and known for its striking decorative designs. Ceramicists in Britain struggled to mimic this style of craftsmanship, so their porcelain was softer, until they added bone ash—a mix of animal bone and calcium phosphate.
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Is bone china made from 100% grass-fed cows better (whiter, stronger, more translucent) than bone china made from factory-farmed animals? That is the question that Gregg Moore is trying to answer in his bone china study. Early experiments are promising— atomic analysis shows that grass-fed, hormone and drug-free animal bone ash make for better bone china (in comparison to industrially-sourced bone ash). What’s more, chemical analysis is showing signs of bone disease in the factory-farmed bones. So now the data supports the story (see previous post)— grass-fed means better meat (and soil and pasture and animals) … and better bone china. @greggfmoore
Though bone china began as an interest in durability, ceramicist Gregg Moore has reimagined the art form with sustainability in mind. His “Grass-Fed Bone China” builds on the farm-to-table ethos of many artisanal restaurants today and incorporates animal bone remnants unused by the kitchen at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York—an institution whose “nose-to-tail” food philosophy centers on exploring creative ways of eating an entire animal once it leaves the farm. Even after Moore’s pottery is created, it remains within the ecosystem of the restaurant: Blue Hill’s table settings feature the artist’s bowls, plates, and cups.
The connection between crockery and cooking is natural—one is designed to hold the other. But Moore’s ceramics are designed to be a meta-commentary on food waste, as they are made from the very cows that produce the restaurant’s dairy and meat. The unglazed, marrow-white objects are primarily made from animal femurs, which are cleaned and then fired. This “calcination” transforms the bones from living matter into the calcium phosphate that potter Josiah Spode in Staffordshire first worked with several centuries ago. Next, the hard paste is mixed with water in a mill, which becomes a liquid slip, and then it’s molded and modeled into the thin-walled, semi-translucent tableware placed at each setting.
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The next chapter of the bone char story — BONE CHINA. The ceramist/artist/GENIUS Gregg Moore took the bone charcoal from our grill and turned it into bone CHINA. Gregg said it was some of the whitest, strongest, and most translucent bone china he had seen. Not long after that, Gregg ran out of our bones, substituting bones from a local butcher shop. “But the bones wouldn’t make china,” he told me. Apparently, the grain-fed, conventional cow bones are so weak (from lack of exercise, diet deficiency, unhappiness…??) that they were worthless for china. So grass-fed doesn’t just mean better soil and better pasture and better meat; it means BETTER BONE CHINA. Crazy. (a study to test this theory in the lab is currently underway) @greggfmoore
Moore’s Grass-Fed Bone China is unlikely to stain and difficult to break. During the firing process, the ceramicist’s symmetrical forms become organically warped and imperfect, much like the once-living animals that bore them. But beyond the aesthetic qualities of Moore’s porcelain dishes, the cows used in Blue Hill’s food (which comes from the Blue Hill farm in Massachusetts) are grass-fed and free-range, which makes the resulting pottery full of material to study, like the environment the animals lived in.
This tableware is the result of an ongoing, five-year collaboration between Moore and Dan Barber, Blue Hill’s head chef and co-owner. Previously, they worked together on plates that were texturized using pecking animals from the restaurant’s farm.