Deconstructing: Terroir

The spring grasses these Holstein cows eat will affect the taste of the organic farmstead cheese made from their milk at Neighborly Farms of Vermont in Randolph Center. This helps to explain the French term terroir.

SCOTT KEELER | Times photo (2006)

The spring grasses these Holstein cows eat will affect the taste of the organic farmstead cheese made from their milk at Neighborly Farms of Vermont in Randolph Center. This helps to explain the French term terroir.

The French term terroir is most often used when speaking of wine grapes and wine. The word does not have a direct translation in English, but loosely interpreted it means a sense of place, and ultimately a taste of a place. It's a source of fierce pride, profit and often international lawsuits. • Terroir (pronounced tehr-WAHR) refers to the geographic and atmospheric circumstances where the grapes are grown. The belief is that the soil, sun, wind, slope and natural water sources of a certain area influence the grapes and thus are reflected in the wine.

For instance, the cool breezes off the bay water in the Carneros region of south Napa Valley make for perfect conditions for crisp chardonnay. And riesling grapes flourish on rocky slopes in California and Germany. Tru terroir for wine becomes much more detailed, from village to village, where there may be different layers of soil in the geology, or one side of a valley to another where the hillsides catch different amounts of sun or rainfall.

In recent years, the term has migrated from wine to other artisan endeavors including cheese, tea and olives. Amy Trubek explores the notion in her new book The Taste of Place: A Cultural History into Terroir (University of California Press).

The term is new to foodies perhaps, but it's an old fact of life for farmers, butchers, ranchers and cheesemakers. Certain areas have always bragged on differences that distinguished Jersey tomatoes, Guyana rum, Smithfield ham, Stilton cheese, Kobe beef, Zellwood corn or Hungarian paprika.

Terroir also has a human aspect, in the traditions and styles of the people who make kielbasa, blue cheese or tortellini, among other artisan foods.

Janet K. Keeler and Chris Sherman, Times staff writers

Deconstructing: Terroir 07/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 4:30am]

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