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Book Review - "American Terroir"

Posted by ed.wilmot on February 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM

It's time to get back on track with blogging. Every week I will feature a new book or movie release and how it applies to sustainability. These books and films will make you think about how you are living in relation to the world and what you can do to live more gently on the hollowed grounds of planet Earth.

$16.48 at Better World Books. Click on book cover to purchase.


To start out this new venture of reviews, I introduce to you "American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Wood, Waters, and Fields" by Rowan Jacobson, the author of the James Beard Award Winning "A Geography of Oysters".


Mr. Jacobsen loosely defines this French term, used mostly within the wine industry, as "the taste of place"; or more accurately, the taste of place dependent upon microclimate, nutrients, soil compostion, moisture content, etc. He explains terroir has a fundamental relationship with our knowledge and connection with the land we inhabit and use. The growing local food movement has embraced terroir as one of the motivating factors behind its power to generate excitement and a cross-generational love affair of foods with real flavor.


Terroir provides the actors and scenery for amazing food stories. And the best stories live on on through our memories. This is where "American Terroir" shines. Rowan's adept use of words and rhythm make this book sing with stories that celebrate place, food and the actors that danc between these elements.


With twelve stories that feature foods from every corner of North America (and a slight fancy to other parts), he lays out a format that features his adventures in these environments, a geographical and historical look at these foods, recipes featuring the foods, and then resources for learning about and obtaining the featured foods (I have already favorited many of the websites). After salivating over the idea of getting my fingers sticky with Tupelo Honey, why not have a website and phone number handy to do just that?


The chapters cover all types of foods: maple syrup, coffee, cider, honey, mussels, potatoes, wild foods, oysters, avocados, salmon, wine, cheese and chocolate.


There's plenty to learn; every page exudes potential sensory adventures, bouyed by both practical knowledge and archane tidbits of information. In the chapter 'Little Truths' Rowan describes the phenomenon called "sensory-specific satiety", which "is common in humans and other omnivores - after a few bites of something, it becomes less desirable...We are built to forage." Ahh...I now have a name for that common experience.


Then in the honey chapter Rowan reveals the possible history to the word honeymoon; ..."derives from an ancient tradition of supplying the bride and groom with an ample supply of mead to sweeten the new marriage,..."


Nearly every chapter alludes to sustainability in one form or another. The chapter on avocados (my favorite food of all time) really makes a point why terroir is important to sustainability. He points out one acre of land with avocado trees can produce eight tons of fruit per year, but requires 1.3 million gallons of water. This is not a problem in its native land of Mexico due to the plentiful supply of rains; but in California this does not allow for any true sustainable farming. "At sixty thousand acres, California's avocado industry uses the equivalent  of two hundred and fifty thousand households."


Flavor in its purest form is all about place. Whether something tastes best as a result of its natural habitat (as is the case of Haas avocados along the Cupatitzio River in Michoacan, Mexico) or as a transplant (as is the case with Totten Inlet Oysters in Puget Sound), food relies on the geography and geology of place to imbue a sense of wonder and curiosity on our tastebuds.


So be careful, reading this book may set the itinerary for your next weekend getaway or vacation.

Categories: Educational, Food and farming, Cultural

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1 Comment

Reply Cilinda
5:29 PM on February 8, 2011 
This sounds like a good book to read. My next venture out to the book store I will look for this. Good job

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