Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 14 Nov 08 11:39
Learned today that more than 50% of the farms in Connecticut, and more than 60% of the farms in Rhode Island, are smaller than 10 acres.
spinning around like an errant, tuxedoed rinse cycle (thelobster) Fri 14 Nov 08 11:58
Well I'm in favor of both urbanization and people rising out of poverty and earning a decent living. Is there really no luxury-food market in Switzerland that can support artisanal foods? It really doesn't take that many people to buy a few 10-kilo wheels of cheese, and if it really is the best cheese in the country, as you say, and everyone knows about it, as you say, then I guess I don't understand why they don't just raise their prices. Moving off that particular Swiss hillside, I imagine that many artisanal food producers around the world manage to compete with big agriculture by operating within the niche of gourmet grocers and fine-dining restaurants (and farmers' markets rather than supermarkets), charging higher prices for higher-quality food with unique character.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 14 Nov 08 12:12
I think Europe, continental Europe in particular, has managed to preserve artisanal farming to a degree we would find almost impossible to imagine here in the the US. If they shrank to a tiny luxury niche as here in the US, that would be a big change.
spinning around like an errant, tuxedoed rinse cycle (thelobster) Fri 14 Nov 08 12:30
Well it sounds like that change is coming, at least in Switzerland.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Fri 14 Nov 08 14:35
I do think that for us to really appreciate the taste of place in our present moment of history we need to see it as a strategy or intervention into the global marketplace, but as important, larger scale industrialized agriculture. And as wiggly, the person with ties to rural Switzerland points out, many small scale artisan food efforts in Europe remain, but these efforts are fragile and would probably not survive without support, not just official government, but cultural support through consumer commitment. To integrate another strand of discussion, I do think that present concerns about global climate change and the environmental costs of industrial scale agriculture may help turn more people, cultures and governments towards the taste of place. What better way to connect people to a vibrant working landscape than through tasting food and drink? But as of right now, most of the people involved in making such food are beyond subsistence, but certainly not putting money in 401K and taking big vacations every year. But if their work respects the environment, has a smaller carbon footprint, continues important craft food tradtions and in fact has great sensory qualities, doesn't it deserve to thrive even if not purely in the free marketZ? I may sound overly idealistic here (a result perhaps of living in Vermont) but at the same time I am also quite pragmatic - I believe in terroir (which I define as both unique environmental and cultural traditions that help create great tasting food and drink but I believe in it as a dynamic process, always open to innovation and change.
cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Fri 14 Nov 08 15:42
>cultural support through consumer commitment That's a huge challenge, tied up with so many different issues. I like getting beyond the oversimplification of purely local eating, and the emphasis on homegrown items. Not all of us want to be farmers. I could cut my own hair, but I prefer to earn money and pass it along (hopefully in the form of a living wage) to someone who DOES want to cut hair, and who'll do a better job. The same goes with most food products. Will be writing about chocolate in Belize next week, am interested to see how the concept of terroir applies to cocoa.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Sat 15 Nov 08 07:12
Cynthia, thanks for pointing out that the taste of place fits into how we divide up labor today. I love the way that the AOC system in France (which is the government supported placed based food organization) is based on the respect for artisan communities, the relationship between many people involved in, let's say, making Comte cheese (dairy farmers, cheesemakers, affineurs and distributors) and the people living in the Jura region as well as communities of cheese consumers around Europe and the United States. I like the idea of buying a cheese that I know was made in a certain way, including respecting the environment and local craft traditions. This in some ways resembles the fair trade movement (which can be helpful in purchasing coffee and cocoa) but the AOC label goes further by creating parameters on production levels as well as having the collective of let's say cheesemakers explain why their cheese is linked to a certain locale.
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 15 Nov 08 15:40
any thoughts on obama's selection for usda?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Sun 16 Nov 08 08:58
Amy, I'd follow on to Gary's question with a similar one. Do you see any role in the U.S. for more governmental support/recognition of local character in food and wine production? You mentioned earlier that small scale artisinal food production in Europe often depends on both governmental support and cultural support for its survival; in the US we seem to have some degree of cultural support now, at least in some places for some products, but the governmental support seems to be lacking. As I've mentioned, I'm abysmally ignorant about wine, so I didn't even realize until I started Googling around that there actually is an American system for classifying the origin of wine grapes - American Viticultural Area, or AVA. It certainly doesn't seem to have all the features of the French AOC system, and it wasn't totally clear to me what purpose it is meant to serve or whether it protects local character in wine production to any significant degree.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Sun 16 Nov 08 12:06
Yes, we have the American Viticultural Areas, but as you mentioned Anne, it does not go into real depth as to a real, persistent connection between wines in an AVA region and the natural and cultural environment of an AVA. As part of my work at the University of Vermont I have been working with Roger Allbee, Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture in Vermont, and others to start thinking about building policy in Vermont around the taste of place. We just had a really exciting workshop where we brought the present head of the INAO, the governing body for the AOC and other French experts (s well as a contingent from Quebec)to speak to a group of cheesemakers, sugarmakers, policy people and legislators about how the AOC (and Geographical Indications, an EU entity) works and the possibilities for Vermont. I was amazed at the enthusiasm and good will on all sides of the discussion and I think we might move from ideas to action here. What policy or legislation will finally emerge, and to what extent it will mimic the AOC, is anybody's guess, but I am optmistic. Other than that, I would say the main focus at the level of states here in the US over the past 5 years or so has been on the "buy local" movement. I have been particularly impressed with those efforts to change school food lunch - a hard nut to crack but there is lots of movement there.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Sun 16 Nov 08 12:08
And Gary, I have no idea about Obama's pick for USDA but I have thought about who might have a chance...I think he will be very focused on raising the profile of nutrient dense foods, particular for those with less resources. I wonder if he will picks someone with expertise in that area rather than commodity agriculture.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 16 Nov 08 14:24
the sustaimnable ag/enviro activist folks i work with are horrified that it might me vilsack (sp?), current gov of iowa, and a better friend to monsanto you have never met. and we are also horrified that it might be calif's current secretary of ag, a.g. kawamura. who has a ponytail and comes across as mr earth muffin --- but oh, he is SO not that. do you have any sense of who realistic contenders might be? jim hightower would be the dream guy, but that's not gonna happen...
Catie McIntyre Walker (rosebud) Sun 16 Nov 08 16:02
Terroir! This is one of my favorite subjects. Unfortunately I just received the book yesterday via mail, but immediately went to the chapters regarding wine. Dr. Trubek, thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I am looking forward to completing the read. At a younger age I knew there was something unique about the local foods I was raised on vs foods from other areas, but never knew how to quite how to define it until I started reading about wine. I started putting pieces of it together in the 70's when I read that the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy shared roughly the same latitude(46ºN) in Washington State where new vines were being planted in the late 60's. Ever since, I have been fascinated with the subject. Two years ago, Steve Bjerklie <stevebj> and I was very fortunate to go on a two day tour of the AVA's in Washington State and visited with many of the vineyard owners. Our tour guide was Gilles Nicault, winemaker and manager of the Long Shadow's Wine Consortium in WA. He was born and raised in France and certainly understands this thing called "terroir." Nicault has also worked closely with Michel Rolland, who was mentioned in the book. All of the AVA's were very distinctive (vines planted in old river beds, vineyards with soil containing petrified woods, AVA's with extreme winds, close to rivers, some areas with sage brush, sandy soil or volcanic soil,etc...)and of course, we tasted those wines which were very distinctive as well. One of the most interesting was the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, where we visited a vineyard that was planted on several tiers of cliffs that dropped down to the Columbia River - - a very deep drop. And interesting enough, Randall Grahm (was also mentioned in the book) had some of his own vines (riesling) planted on one of those tiers. From the beginning I understood that the book and this discussion is not about "eating local," but about a "sense of place." But I also understand my own unique "sense of place" where I grew up in Eastern Washington (Walla Walla)and aware of these differences when I taste foods or wines from another "place." Some people make fun of me when I taste a wine from the Walla Walla AVA and might comment it reminds me of "autumn," while other wine lovers "get it." While I am partial to my own "sense of place" when savoring food and wine, I cannot deny that what is familiar to me isn't always better. Such as the Pinot Noir from Washington State (what little there is) cannot be compared to many of the lush Pinot Noir from Oregon. The climate, deciduous forests and even down to the clay soil is only unique to the Willamette. Walla Walla is surrounded by wheat fields, but in the valley we have a large Italian settlement (started late 1800's) who developed truck gardens which also begat the Walla Walla Sweet Onions. I grew up surrounded by fields holding the special soil and in fact, my step father's family was one of the first Italian settlers to put the onions on the map. Through the years, other states and areas have grown the onions from the same seeds, but the results have never been the same - it's all about the soil (volcanic), percentage of rainfall and our longer growing days, just like our distinct vineyards. And I would like to think that even the culture from the Italian families made an impact on these onions. Forgive me while I yammer on about the subject. Being raised in a small town, which still had a large farm existence, I took a lot of flavors and colors of the produce for granted until I was old enough to really understand the unique difference. For instance, the strawberries grown in our valley (third-generation berry farmers) were intense in flavor and the color almost a blackish-red compared to the orangish-red berries with half the flavor I found in other areas. My grandparents raised their own beef and chickens in Eastern Washington. After my grandparents retired and eventually deceased, I would never taste a chicken as plump and tasty as my grandmother's again until I purchased one from a kosher butcher shop in a small suburb in Sydney, Australia about 10 years ago. And yet, I only buy beef from two different ranches in Oregon because it reminds me of the beef I grew up with. I haven't found one yet in Washington that I care for. Probably the best experience with terroir was with a glass of wine. The wine was from a vineyard which had previously been wheat for a 100 years. A particular wine from these vineyards reminded me of my grandfather as crazy as it sounds. It was something about the nose. I easily picked up the smells of petrol, but there was something else. Visiting with the winemaker,(also from France - we have several French winemakers living in Walla Walla), I told him how this Cabernet Sauvignon blend reminded me of my grandfather. The nose of the wine reminded me of Grandpa's overalls, his work shed and even his mudroom in the back of the house. Serge, the winemaker, indeed understood everything I was talking about after he found out what my grandfather did for a living. My grandfather was in the grain business and spent days in the fields whether it was managing crews or bidding on grain for feed. I visited the vineyard and went through some of the old buildings left from days when it was a wheat ranch - and many of the smells from it's days of being a wheat ranch, left it's mark on the grapes. Dr. Trubek, as I was scanning the book, I noticed the photo of the cattle horns and I immediately knew what that was about - biodynamics. In the Walla Walla AVA, we have the first vineyard to be biodynamic certified. The vineyard/winery owner is from France. And there must be something to this as his wines often receive 98 from Parker. I understand the methods, but in many ways the practice is still very mysterious to me - - however mysterious and supernatural, I will never discount it. And you posed the question, "Does our past determine our future when it comes to terroir?" From my personal experiences - - it does. Were you able to taste any of the wines that were from biodynamic certified vineyards and were able to taste differences from those that were not grown that way? Do you feel we should mimic other environments or accept our own "sense of place?" Thank you.
Catie McIntyre Walker (rosebud) Sun 16 Nov 08 16:21
>>... how horrible the wine grown in North Carolina is. I've heard there are exceptions, but when I went to the wine festival last year every one I tasted was too sweet and cloying. So even if you can make wine locally, that doesn't mean you should. Let me be the devil's advocate - even if you can make wine locally and you have the skills to make it well, I believe you should. Sweet (off dry) wines are a style and there are people who enjoy them. It's true that North Carolina will never have the same terroir that has made California, Washington and Oregon successful in wine production. But the growers need to understand what vitis vinifera and their own terroir will go hand in hand, then they can be successful in their own right - - and of course, assuming the winemaker is skilled. It's true, they will never produce a Cabernet like California's, a Merlot or Riesling like Washington's or a Pinot Noir like those from Oregon, but somewhere in North Carolina there is a diamond in the rough that can be enjoyed and understood for it's own terroir and style.
John Ross (johnross) Sun 16 Nov 08 20:54
We're seeing something similar with cider apples in the Skagit Valley (northwest Washington, the opposite corner of the state from Walla Walla). Using genetic stock from England and France, the growing characteristics, sugar and acid measurements are often very different from the same varieties at their places of origin. They're still identifiiable as Foxwhelp or Brown Snout or Kingston Black, but they're not the same as the ones from Somerset or Normandy.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 17 Nov 08 08:10
The other thing from that area that's well known is Hermiston melons.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Mon 17 Nov 08 12:23
I will have to start with apples, since my husband and I have small heirloom apple orchard. I am fascinated with John's comment that the cider apples from England and France do not have the same adicity in the Skagit Valley. We have a number of cider apple trees (Russets, Cox' Orange Pippin, etc.) and our cider is (and I really am not bragging here) the most complex in flavor profile around, which we think is due to the greater acidity of the heirloom varieties. We have been attributing it more to our varieties than to any really specific environmental terroir factor such as our west facing slope. What do you think is making the difference in WA and are you documenting them in some way? And I do agree with Catie's comment: "It's true that North Carolina will never have the same terroir that has made California, Washington and Oregon successful in wine production. But the growers need to understand what vitis vinifera and their own terroir will go hand in hand, then they can be successful in their own right - - and of course, assuming the winemaker is skilled." I agree that attention to place can always create a good product, although perhaps here in VT we chould spend more time on hard cider and less on wine given our cold climate. At the end The Taste of Place I borrow from Randall Grahm's rich and wonderful writings on terroir (I urge you to go find them on the Bonny Doon Vineyards website) to espouse my present philosophy of terror: "Perhaps the taste of place is best understood, as Grahm sees it, as an aspiration, a desire to make and appreciate food and wine with place always in mind." Grahm says there is no terroir formula rather only a terroir intelligence. I wholeheartedly agree.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 17 Nov 08 13:45
I do too. I think it's also important to distinguish eating locally from tasting locally. Eating locally grown foods is often a pleasure (and <katherine>, I must comment here that I prefer our deep, complex, rich maple syrup here in New Hampshire to that stuff you make over there in Vermont!), and it will support local farming, but it won't necessarily always get you the best food or best terroir. As <katherine> points out above, Vermont's climate isn't a good one for wine (neither is New Hampshire's, though there is one winery in the southern portion of the state). I feel no qualms buying my wines from elsewhere. Same with certain other foods. Tasting place doesn't mean you have to live in the place.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Mon 17 Nov 08 16:09
People have been working trade routes for spices for thousands of years. I hope we'll always have trade for spices , and coffee, and cocoa, and wine, and maple syrup, and all the other wonderful special tastes that are local to various regions, even as we learn to go back to eating the bulk of our calories from locally farmed goods instead of from the petroleum-based factory food stream.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Mon 17 Nov 08 18:19
interesting about cox' orange pippins. when i;ve had them them in europe in the 70s (back before everything got so much more regularized in euro ag) i swooned over them. i;ve eaten them as grown here in santa cruz --- fine, but no big whoop. i hadnt thot about the terroir aspect of it before...
John Ross (johnross) Mon 17 Nov 08 22:39
With respect, Cox's and Russetts are not cider apples in the traditional sense. It's entirely possible to make good cider with them, but they don't have the high tannin that makes the classic cidree varieties "spitters" -- they're all but inedible off the tree, but fermentatiion turns the tannin into a more complex flavor (as it does in many red wines). The Washington State University Research Center in Mount Vernon is documenting their experience with cider apples: http://mountvernon.wsu.edu/FruitHorticulture/Apples.html#ciderAppleTestPlot Look at the links to the Annual Report Arhives for detailed information about juice characteristics. I'm sure there are comparable numbers from Long Ashton and Normandy someplace, but I don't know where to find them. (Long Ashton was the English cider apple research center until it closed a few years ago). Part of the difference in terroir is latitude. As (rosebud) pointed out, the Columbia and Snake valleys are at about the same latitude as Bordeaux; the Skagit is about one degree south of Normandy and ever farther south of English apple country. That might be enough to make a difference in ripening dates. I really don't know how the soil compares, or if the "fertigation" practices at Mount Vernon make a significant difference.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Tue 18 Nov 08 06:24
John, thanks for the excellent information about the research being done on cider apples - I am going to connect with the folks at Washington State (and just to clarify I was talking about our fresh cider; we only make small batches of hard cider and we are definitely thinking about adding other varieties to that mix). And yes, I do believe in latitudt (although does that account for Steve's distinction between New Hampshire and Vermont maple syrup?!?) And Betsy, thanks for so eloquently articulating my own aspirations combining eating locally with the taste of place: "as we learn to go backto eating the bulk of our calories from locally farmed goods instead of from the petroleum-based factory food stream." I hope we all pay more attention to place but along the way we need to understand more clearly the difference between staple foods and the added beauty of different sensory experiences provided by taste of place foods. Here in the US we need to revamp how we access staple foods (and what they are and how they are produced) and protect and promote taste of place products too.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 18 Nov 08 07:28
I was kidding about the maple syrup. In a blind taste test I'm sure I would not be able to taste the difference between Vermont and New Hampshire Dark Amber Grade A. I prefer to buy New Hampshire syrup, though, because, well, I live in New Hampshire. It amuses me that in some stores over in Vermont near the border (e.g. Farmway in Bradford), I can buy New Hampshire syrup at a discount. I also like to buy New Hampshire apples, including <loris>'s cherished Cortlands. The Macoun apples from the White Mountain region in NH are very, very good too, as are the Winesaps.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Tue 18 Nov 08 10:11
Mmm, we get wonderful Macouns and Cortlands here in MA too...I would be up for an apple taste test! There are also two brave souls here who have started an organic pick-your-own apple farm. We were shocked at the appearance of the apples - I expected a few spots but had never seen anything with quite so MANY, spots layered on spots - but the taste was extraordinary. I would not normally have chosen red or yellow delicious when apple picking, but that's what they had ripe, and they were small with a tart sweetness to them that I hadn't thought Delicious apples were capable of.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 18 Nov 08 10:26
macouns are my second favorite apple! and yes the ones i had in NH (i was there in oct 06) were wonderful...
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