Monday, January 31, 2011

Terroir chips?

(that's terroir, not Terra chips -- though those are pretty delicious too)

Foodies and agrarians generally use the concept of terroir to refer to the inherent, inextricable and intangible character of raising food in a specific geographical region. We often hear about it in terms of wine, the way the grapes of a particular region process the mineral characteristics of the soil in which it grows. People also talk about it in terms of food, how the cheese of a particular region gets its unique characteristics from the grass mixture eaten by the cows that produce the milk for said cheese. But, given that terroir generally involves growing something on the land itself, specific terroirs are not exactly mobile entities: you can't ship the soil off to some other place in order to replicate terroir.

Or maybe you can? This article about smoking techniques for food in Food & Wine's February issue has got me thinking that maybe terroir can become mobile. Specifically, this quote by chef Jason Alley:

"You can really taste the individual wood, like hickory or apple, without covering up the flavor of the thing you're smoking."

So, to the extent that the individual woods might carry the terroir of the region in which they were grown, perhaps exportable wood chips and smoking techniques provide a novel way to unshackle the concept of terroir from products solely raised on that land? Intriguing for a new way of thinking about globalized cuisine, or terrifying for implying that one could actually encapsulate and commodify the intangible characteristics of a region (though arguably, wine producers who invoke the concept of terroir already do this)?

Or maybe just a bunch of hot air...

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