Viewers of obscure television drama may recall a surreal detective series from half a decade ago, promoted somewhat confusingly in the Anglophone world as 'Black Spot'. Shot in a curious corner of the Vosges, the name makes more sense in French, especially for us paper enthusiasts; Zone Blanche.
Said white space is perhaps a natural home for a paper mill, and there's been one hereabouts in the commune of Étival-Clairefontaine since the Tironensian Order was around. Mediaeval monasticism does tend to leave a fair few souvenirs like that. Anyway, one thing led to another and eventually that mill for monks became a paper-making conglomerate providing writing materials for the whole world.
Nero has sent a few of their recent offerings this way recently and they will be tested in appropriate settings over coming weeks; there's a lovely-looking holiday-themed A6 which may well end up on a beach again, and a weighty A5 notebook which looks just the ticket for work. But while those find their niche, a word about the paper itself - because it's awesome.
Debate rages without cease about which paper is the best, and of course it's very much a matter of personal taste. But for fans of the flex nib, Clairefontaine is usually high on the list of preferred paper sources, for good reason. It's smooth, it doesn't absorb too much ink (so sheen shows) but it absorbs enough to make for reasonable drying times - so you can live with it comfortably.
How the Clairefontaine team achieve this is, understandably, something of a trade secret. But we can hazard a few guesses. Pulp quality is key, to start with, so the company guards its sources carefully, even to the point of buying its own recycling plant to reduce the environmental impact without a deleterious effect upon quality. Then the paper probably has to pressed hard at the mill to eliminate gaps between fibres which can allow ink to spread too far. Finally, it's possible that a very light coating is applied, and there's quite an art to that; just the right amount adds shine and smoothness, but lay on too much and it can't take fountain pen ink at all. Naturally, the exact secret isn't about to be publicised - but it certainly works. If your writing tool of choice veers on the wet noodly side, try some and see what you think!