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Tasting French Terroir

Tasting French Terroir: The History of an Idea

Thomas Parker
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Tasting French Terroir
    Book Description:

    This book explores the origins and significance of the French concept of terroir, demonstrating that the way the French eat their food and drink their wine today derives from a cultural mythology that developed between the Renaissance and the Revolution. Through close readings and an examination of little-known texts from diverse disciplines, Thomas Parker traces terroir’s evolution, providing insight into how gastronomic mores were linked to aesthetics in language, horticulture, and painting and how the French used the power of place to define the natural world, explain comportment, and frame France as a nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96133-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1962, in a book entitledLes Mots du Général de Gaulle, Ernest Mignon sketched the personality of the first president of France’s Fifth Republic with a variety of anecdotes. One illuminating quotation conjured an image of de Gaulle in a comparatively humble light, asking, “How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?”¹ The phrase not only resonated among the French, who must have nodded their heads knowingly, thinking about the intractability of their regional neighbors, but also captured an international audience (Newsweekrepublished the same quote later in the year, disseminating the...

  6. ONE Rabelais’s Table and the Poets of the Pléiade
    (pp. 13-36)

    Both françois rabelais’s sixteenth-century mock epic in prose and the writings of the group of poets known as the Pléiade provide great insight into how fictional representations of food and wine linked origins to identity.¹ Consider the two influences in juxtaposition: on the one hand, Rabelais presents depictions of regional, cultural, linguistic, and culinary boundaries in order to transgress them, building walls only to break them down and create harmony among readers. On the other hand, the poets of the Pléiade use language on wine to reaffirm territorial distinctions, establishing identity and harmony by forming communitieswithinregional walls. These...

  7. TWO The Plantification of People
    (pp. 37-53)

    Chapter 1 demonstrated how members of the Pléiade helped romanticize a cerebral brand of “poetic terroir” that mixed the metaphors of wine, agricultural bounty, and theories concerning the genesis of the French language. It also showed how agricultural writing in Renaissance science pegged human bodily constitutions to terroir through wine.

    In the last part of the sixteenth century, a new, third discourse bridged the gap between mind and body, attributing both physical and intellectual characteristics in humans to terroir by comparing them to plants. The comparison became a philosophical and literary leitmotif that remained popular into the twentieth century. Beyond...

  8. THREE Courtside Purity and the Académie Française’s Attack on the Earth
    (pp. 54-72)

    When thethéâtre d’agricultureappeared in 1600, climate and terroir had already been used to create expectations for the behavior of people and the taste of produce in a wide range of contexts, from poetry and political philosophy to farming and medical science. At that point, terroir had mostly positive or neutral connotations rather than negative ones. The first third of the seventeenth century did little to change that, but as Louis XIV’s power as an absolute monarch was continuously reaffirmed, the centralized power of Paris and the court started to consume France’s attention, and the provinces—together with terroir—...

    (pp. 73-92)

    As louis xiv’s power approached its apogee in the second half of the seventeenth century and members of the court affected a maximum of urbane sophistication, Versailles began to represent the archetype of cosmopolitanism. It was the utopic “no-place” in a context in which being marked by the provinces, or by any sort of terroir, was akin to being afflicted by a cultural blight. The material culture of the garden reflected aesthetic values concerning refined language and comportment. It also expressed another important change: between the early and late seventeenth century elite members of French society, with some exceptions, increasingly...

  10. FIVE Saint-Évremond and the Invention of Geographical Connoisseurship
    (pp. 93-113)

    As we have seen, in the sixteenth century and much of the seventeenth century, terroir was both viewed as a real determining force on produce and human beings and derided for its provincial or unclean connotations in language and in gardens. Indeed, terroir became a crass and unruly manifestation of nature in humans and plants, one that culture was meant to refine, if not altogether expunge. In terms of food and terroir, perhaps the most telling testimony is that of the epicurean Saint-Évremond, who appeared briefly in chapter 3 in the context of seasoning. Saint-Évremond was France’s early prototype of...

    (pp. 114-132)

    At the end of louis xiv’s rule, in the first years of the eighteenth century, a political and ideological debate encouraged the French to look at the ground in a new way. Terroir’s sullied seventeenth-century image evolved according to a new vision that influenced how people understood the state, its citizens, and their relationship with the land. To put it another way, when theories regarding social class and what constituted Frenchness not only challenged the king’s absolute power and authority but became a threat to France’s collective identity, consanguinity, and image of itself as a unified country, terroir made its...

  12. SEVEN The Normalization of Terroir: PARIS AND THE PROVINCES
    (pp. 133-153)

    Although the abbé du bos, montesquieu, and Menon all played large roles in changing the overriding view of the earth in the first half of the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau arguably had an even more significant part in the decades leading up to the Revolution. As Adam Gopnik pointed out, Rousseau promoted the “superiority of terroir” not only to the public who voraciously read his books, but also to a broad range of well-known historical figures such as Robespierre, Chantoiseau (heralded by many as the inventor of the modern restaurant), and Marie-Antoinette, who made a pilgrimage to Rousseau’s grave in...

    (pp. 154-164)

    In 1961, the literary critic Roland Barthes evoked terroir as he summed up the power of food and drink in France in terms of culinary nationalism and nostalgia, two themes the preceding pages have traced back to the Renaissance. He explains that “food allows people (I am speaking here of French themes) to partake each day of the national past […] it upholds the memory of the terroir in modern life […]. One can say that, through their food, the French live to some extent the continuity of their nation.”¹ Barthes identifies a quest in French society to recover the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 165-186)
    (pp. 187-216)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 217-229)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-233)