The Taste of Place

In The Taste of Place, author Amy Trubek begins by introducing the concepts of terroir and gout de terroir and explains how she came to be so invested in them. From her teaching position at the New England Culinary Institute, her investigation takes her to France where gout de terroir and terroir have become part of the national identity. French tastemakers wanted to strengthen the connections urban French consumers had to where their food came from, and to preserve their traditional farming and cooking methods. They did this by advocating for the thought that food from a specific area had a unique and definable taste, and by creating regions defined by their grapes, then later their cheeses, olive oil, and other foods. Thus, the Institut National des Apellation d’Origine (INAO) was created, and a large body of work has been written in the following decades perpetuating the categorization of French dishes and food products. Trubek experiences the uniquely French attitude of the land ingredients came from as a component of the taste of a dish, which she starkly contrasts with the American standard of industrialized food and uniform ingredients regardless of origin.

Trubek becomes involved with the Vermont Fresh Network (VFN), which was started to promote connections between small Vermont farmers and local restaurants. She notes the difference of priorities between French and American consumers and chefs, and the large food distributers that are the norm in America but are far less dominant in France. Trubek highlights several small partners in the VFN who are helping to define the terroir of Vermont in their own ways. Lazy Lady Farms, run by Laini Fondiller, is less focused on traditional methods of cheese making than many of her French counterparts seem to be, though she learned that tendency towards innovation from her French mentor. Tod Murphy opened The Farmer’s Diner with the intention of using local ingredients and itroduced a conversation about what is defined as “local”. Trubek looks at maple syrup as a defining part of the terroir of Vermont and through the lense of maple syrup, she looks at how the branding of the whole state affects the small businesses the VFN was set up to help as well as the larger syrup market. She gets a unique perspective on this issue, both through joint research venture with John Elder and her position as the executive director of the VNF.

Finally, Trubek mentions Slow Food, a Northern-Italian organization that works to preserve and spread the food of that region, and which maintains a Euro-Nationalist definition of terroir. She concludes that all of the perspectives she has explored have failings, whether that is a lack of innovation or difficulties with distribution and finding markets, or an exclusion of certain products. While Trubek advocates for people to find connections to where their food comes from, she realizes that the systems currently in place often limit those connections and more progress is needed achieve the ideals she is championing.

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