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The Taste of Place

The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    The Taste of Place
    Book Description:

    How and why do we think about food, taste it, and cook it? While much has been written about the concept of terroir as it relates to wine, in this vibrant, personal book, Amy Trubek, a pioneering voice in the new culinary revolution, expands the concept of terroir beyond wine and into cuisine and culture more broadly. Bringing together lively stories of people farming, cooking, and eating, she focuses on a series of examples ranging from shagbark hickory nuts in Wisconsin and maple syrup in Vermont to wines from northern California. She explains how the complex concepts of terroir andgoût de terroirare instrumental to France's food and wine culture and then explores the multifaceted connections between taste and place in both cuisine and agriculture in the United States. How can we reclaim the taste of place, and what can it mean for us in a country where, on average, any food has traveled at least fifteen hundred miles from farm to table? Written for anyone interested in food, this book shows how the taste of place matters now, and how it can mediate between our local desires and our global reality to define and challenge American food practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93413-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. 1-17)

    WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY THIRTIES, JUST FINISHING MY DOCTORAL DISSERTAtion in cultural anthropology, I moved to Vermont to teach at a culinary school, the New England Culinary Institute. I had worked as a cook for many years, and my dissertation looked at the history of the culinary profession. Working at a culinary school, then, was really a form of fieldwork, allowing me to be a participant-observer in the making of contemporary American food culture, especially the subculture of people earning their living making, selling, and serving food in restaurants. Soon after I arrived at the school I met...

    (pp. 18-53)

    A REMARKABLE CONSISTENCY EXISTS IN DISCUSSIONS OFTERROIRANDGOÛT du terroirin France, a cultural sensibility that extends back over several centuries. In historical documents, government treatises, and contemporary conversation, everyone—be they journalists, farmers, vintners, bureaucrats, chefs, or citizens—does not adopt a point of view. Instead they consider terroir and goût du terroir toreflect reality. This fundamentalist mode always begins with a defined place, tracing the taste of place back from the mouth to the plants and animals and ultimately into the soil, creating a very Gallic twist on the oft-used American phrase “location, location, location.”...

    (pp. 54-92)

    TERROIRPOSSESSES MULTIPLE MEANINGS, BUT THEY ALL REFER BACK TO A system of ordering and classifying a particular place. Anthropologist Mary Douglas, famous for her analysis of religious purity and pollution rules, says in that context, “Dirt is matter out of place.” Terroir, however, is dirtina certain place. And as Douglas points out, “Dirt, then, is never an isolated event. Where there is dirt there is a system. Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, insofar as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements.”¹ The cultural significance of dirt—as soil, as surroundings—motivates all...

    (pp. 93-138)

    PLACE MATTERS IN FRANCE. A STRONG AGRARIAN TRADITION, THE SYMBOLIC importance of the peasant, and nationalist pride in all things culinary allowed a set of values and practices to persist in the midst of numerous social and economic transformations. Such an emphasis on practice, place, and taste was embraced at all levels of French society, from the individual peasant to the highest-ranking official in the French Ministry of Agriculture. At the same time, however, the twentieth century was also witness to tremendous changes in all aspects of the French food system, from the decline in the number of peasants working...

    (pp. 139-168)

    PERHAPS I AM A NAÏVE CULINARY OPTIMIST. I KNOW THAT WAL-MART, McDONald’s, Olive Garden, and Sysco dominate our culinary landscape. I know that many Americans, when confronted with an office party in New Mexico, Illinois, or Kentucky, will as often as not buy a box of frozen prepared appetizers from Costco. How can I possibly believe that in the era of global convenience cuisine there is also emerging a moderncuisine du terroir, with fidelity to place and season?

    Appropriately enough, I can believe it because of something I ate in a restaurant. Although we tend to assume that cooking...

    (pp. 169-207)

    JUNE 1994 WAS THE FIRST TIME I EVER ENTERED THE STATE OF VERMONT. THIS was not a vacation. Since I was a child, my lodestar for New England respites had always been the seashore. This time, however, I was driving up Interstate 89 and over the Connecticut River separating New Hampshire and Vermont for a job interview at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). Finishing my dissertation, broke, and thinking about gainful employment, I decided to look for a job at a culinary school. A former cooking colleague and graduate of NECI recommended I give them a call. A month...

    (pp. 208-243)

    TOD MURPHY OF THE FARMERS DINER ONCE SAID, “FOOD IS LOCAL AS LONG AS it is knowable.”¹ Murphy spoke of knowing food in a discussion among advocates for sustainable agriculture and local foods about what defines local food. In the course of my research on taste of place and my work at Vermont Fresh Network, I attended numerous meetings at which people discussed the feasibility of using a fifty-, a seventy-five-, or a one-hundred-mile radius (from a restaurant or a supermarket, for example) as the criterion for determining whether a food was “local.” Such discussions inevitably stalled in the face...

    (pp. 244-250)

    IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DOCUMENTARYMONDOVINO, A TELLING SCENE REVEALS the global possibilities for the taste of place. Neil Rosenthal, a New York wine importer, and J. M. Baptiste, a Haitian immigrant working in Rosenthal’s warehouse, both articulate their perspective onterroirwith director Jonathan Nossiter. Rosenthal, who makes his living importing European wine and selling it to Americans, must be fluent in the language of terroir in order to sell potential buyers on the quality of the wines he represents. However, he explicitly rejects the language of connoisseurship. He says, “For me, enjoying the greatness of wine doesn’t...

    (pp. 251-262)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 263-280)
    (pp. 281-290)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 291-294)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)