The Taste of Place

In Amy Trubek’s Taste of Place, the author explores the ideas of “terroir”, a French term that explains how the natural environment of a region influences the taste of a food or drink. The author brings past and present values of fresh and local foods in France and the US to investigate how taste and place are connected to cuisine and agriculture. Trubek begins her research by explaining how the French were the first to coin the term “gout de terroir”, or taste of place, through tastemakers’ creations of region-specific wines. These winemakers promoted the idea that grapes grown in specific areas gave wine their distinctive tastes and quality unlike any other, which prevented their traditional methods of cooking from being lost. Grapes and the soil they were grown in were the only way that growers could protect their champagne from being copied or appropriated by other places that the grapes and soil were not from. This authentication of region-specific champagne helped create the Institut National des Apellation d’Origine (INAO), which guarantees the authenticity of a product such as wine and cheese. Many French authors would then go on to write about dishes based on their regional ingredients, thus immortalizing certain dishes as region-specific.

The author compares the terroir in France to that of Vermont, where she spent a great deal of time studying farmers’ products.  Trubek discusses Vermont Fresh Network, an organization that she spent time working with, which attempts to provide local markets for farmers to sell their products to chefs, while also trying to create a taste of place for Vermont. The author makes a point to say that the food distribution system in the US does not normally provide local products to local consumers and most chefs and industries are more interested in how the food is delivered to them, not where the food is delivered from. The author introduced several local farmers who sell their products using the ideas of Vermont’s terroir to their advantage to give their areas of the state a distinct identity. This includes the Lazy Lady Farms, which produced goat cheeses and meats which are not traditional, but are distinct from other dairy farms, thus giving it a taste of place. Another is The Farmer’s Diner, which uses locally sourced foods for their meals to support local farmers in the hopes of making diners more appreciative of their local food. Last, the author explains how maple syrup, Vermont’s most symbolic product, has issues when it comes to being labeled as “authentic” because sellers of the product may combine different grades of syrup (fancy or deep amber) because consumers cannot taste the difference between single syrups or mixed ones. Some syrups also may use products from Canada in their ingredients but will still be labeled as “from Vermont”, but because their labels use images of Vermont, it is deemed authentic.

In the last section of the reading, the author discusses Slow Food, a non-profit organization in Northern Italy which wants to promote great tastes of that region. The founder, Petrini, has a Euro-Nationalist definition of terroir, believing that for food or drink to be authentic and have a good taste, it has to be decided historically and traditionally by those before us.

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