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Feb 16, 2012 11:36 PM

Is terroir/taste of place real?

Does the origin of a place a food product originated from in of itself provide a taste or mouth-feel to the party, excluding what taste a product would normally have from plain old trying to make good product? Like for instance, with the same procedure, same species of grass feed for the animal, and etc., would a parmesan cheese made in Canada taste different from parmesan cheese made in Italy? Also, can one be a legitimate foodie and/or chef without traveling to Spain to have authentic Spain mushrooms? :p

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  1. YES, terroir is real.

    Yes, cheese made in Canada will taste different than cheese made in Italy (yes, it does, actually).

    Of course you can be a legitimate foodie and/or chef without traveling to Spain...but you just have to keep in the back of your mind that the recipe will not taste exactly like the version prepared in Spain until you've had it in the region where those mushrooms are harvested.

    (because we've all managed to argue until we agree that 'authentic' doesn't really mean anything)

    1. Terroir is absolutely real, but it is more marked with some things than others. It has a HUGE impact on wine. Many many years ago I was cooking at my mother's house (not an easy thing to do), and needed a Riesling wine. My mother said she'd run to the liquor store and brought back a "Spanish Riesling." That vineyard had soil so chalky it made the wine taste like dirt. Terrible stuff and spoiled the sauce and I quit trying to cook at my mother's house! As a kid, I once fed a hungry neighbor's cow a box of tomatoes. The cow was staked on our acreage and had eaten all its chain would allow, so another kid and I picked tomatoes and took them to the cow. The next day the cow's owner was screaming at my grandfather because I had turned her cow's milk into tomato soup! And she brought a bucket of it to prove it. Yup. The milk even tasted tomatoey, so things like cheeses are heavily impacted by terroir and all it implies. There is an almond tree (and maybe a grove) on the side of Mount Pelion in Thessaly, Greece that produces almonds that taste like none other in the entire world. But not all plant foods are impacted on as heavily by where they grow as others. However, go hydroponic and you'll get global uniformity!

      As for your Spanish mushroom question, if you have the wherewithall, you can always have Spain flown to you! '-)

      1. There is, IMO, an element of terroir that can be tasted on occasions. A Cheddar made in south west England will probably taste more Cheddar-like than one manufactured elsewhere.

        That said, for the French (and those elsewhere who accept the concept of terroir), it's more than just taste - it's about being in tune with your region's produce, so, in that very important respect, terroir is a cultural thing. And, in that, it's very real.

        1. Coffee from Ethiopia carries a blue fruit wine-like taste that I don't notice in other coffees. I think it due to terroir.

          3 Replies
            1. re: Chinon00

              Not that you shouldn't like blueberry, but it doesn't really pertain to terroir.

              The blueberry in some Ethiopian coffees (Harrar) is due to the processing. This region uses "dry" (aka natural) processing, drying the beans still in the fruit and the blueberry taste is due to fermentation. This type processing is often done in areas with very little fresh water supply. They use dry processing in Yemen as well. It's difficult to get consistent quality. Most coffee professionals consider the ferment a defect, however, Harrars are a good introductory coffee to teach consumers that not all coffee tastes the same.

              You can read more about that here:

              Beans from other regions in Ethiopia (notably Yirgacheffe) are wet processed (as are beans from most of the rest of the coffee-growing world). These coffees more often have bergamot and floral notes instead of big fruit. You may find some dry processed coffees from Sidamo, but they are done that way intentionally and the QC is different, so something like a Sidamo "Ardi" will have some blueberry, but also more consistency cup-to-cup.

              Keep in mind that you'll get better coffee the higher up the mountain you go. This isn't necessarily related to terroir but rather the heat/cool the cherries receive. But there are distinct differences country to country and region to region, sometimes mountain to mountain (or even which side of the mountain).

              Some of this is due to the varietal (bourbon, SL-28, caturra, etc.) In really broad general terms (really really broad) a typical Kenya AA will often exhibit black currants and a tomato-ey acidity while Burundis might be plummy and tamarind and Rwandans stone fruit and tangerine. Many Mexicans have strong chocolate notes. Many Central and South Americans are citrusy.

              A lot of coffee tasters can tell the origin on one taste (not me unfortunately). So yeah, there are a range of influences on what a coffee tastes like, both naturally occurring and man-made. Terroir is one of these variables.

              I didn't mention Sumatrans because Sumatra generally processes in a hybrid way unique to them that creates their 'earthy' quality. That's a story for another time.

              If you've read this far you probably wish you had that time back :-)

            2. Terroir does not mean it is better, just different.

              Cheese (artisanal) made in England will be different than one made in Canada; and both will be very good and appeal to different taste.

              Terroir also mean the context (cultural and societal) where the food is prepared, when eating in a different country than your own, you will be eperiencing a lot more than just the ingredients, but also the life of the country.

              As for your example, eating a mushroom dish in a tapas bar in Sevilla, standing up with a glass of Fino Sherry at 11pm, will be quite different than eating the same dish sitting down at home in front of the TV.

              32 Replies
              1. re: Maximilien

                but the flavors ARE there, and they ARE real...the water, the soil, the fertilizer...they're all a part of terroir, just as much as atmosphere and tradition and technique.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Yes, different, but not necessarilly better.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Atmosphere and technique = "terroir"?

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      environment, atmosphere, technique...all of it.

                      It's part of the reasoning behind AOC/AOP labeling in has to be made a certain way, with certain ingredients, to bear the name.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        When you say "atmosphere" do you mean the physical surroundings of where you are consuming a product? That's not terroir. If I drink a Morgon in Philly it's still a Morgon.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          But if you drink a Morgon in Beaujolais, as opposed to a non-Beaujolais wine, then that is certainly about understanding the concept of terroir.

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Because it's all about linking people to the food and the food to the environment and the environment to the people.

                              Sorry - best I can do by way of explaining. Difficult to explain to someone, easy to experience.

                              It's going to a restaurant in, say the Pas de Calais, and the cheese chariot only having the likes of Maroilles, Ch'ti Cremeux, Wissant and L'Ecume de Wimereux - and knowing that the owners have felt no need to offer a wider geographical selection

                              1. re: Harters

                                I think that you might be conflating the psychological effect of what being someplace has on your perception of taste with the ACTUAL effect that soil, climate, terrain, etc can have on taste. Both can have an impact for sure but aren't the same thing.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  No, I don't think I am (although I had never heard the word "conflating" before and had to look up its meaning and am, perhaps, still unsure of its meaning)

                                  With regard to you second sentence, you are correct that both aspects are not the same thing. But both aspects contribute to the concept of "terroir".

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    "But both aspects contribute to the concept of "terroir".

                                    Per what or which source(s)?

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      Sorry, don't understand the question.

                                      Are you asking if I have evidence for my belief about what impacts on the concept of terroir? If so then no, of course not. It is simply my understanding of the concept of terroir. If not, then please rephrase your question. Thanks.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        So it's your understanding that "terroir" has no rigid definition that can be referenced from a book?

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          Absolutely that's my understanding. There's no way that such a concept can be referenced, IMO. See my earlier post (the one mentioning Pas de Calais cheeses) -to my mind, there really is nothing more needed by way of explanation, although Wikipedia uses a good phrase, describing "terroir" as a "sense of place" - taking it beyond the physical aspects of producing food.

                                          1. re: Harters

                                            The rest of that wiki quote reads: ". . which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the PRODUCTION of the product. No where in the wiki entry does it discuss the psychological effect place can have on the consumer of the product. You are overthinking this thing.

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              "No where in the wiki entry does it discuss the psychological effect place can have on the consumer of the product."


                                              However, describing terroir as a "sense of place" is as good a definition for me as anything - hence me sayiing in the previous post that it is a "good phrase".

                                              And please don't assume that I'm doing any thinking here. Thinking is the last thing I want to do about my understanding of the concept of terroir. Please try to understand that this is about feelings.

                                              By the way, what's your understanding of the concept of terroir, assuming you think there is one?

                                              For info (as I've mentioned the Pas de Calais)

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                "By the way, what's your understanding of the concept of terroir, assuming you think there is one?"

                                                Sure, it's the effect that the soil, terrain and climate imparts on the flavor of an agricultural product.

                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                  sometimes it can be defined scientifically.

                                                  Sometimes it just IS.

                                                  Science hates grey, I know -- but sometimes it's' grey, not black or white.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    That I agree w/. We may not understand completely how nature informs an agricultural product. And we may not understand how our physical surrounding inform our perception. But both remain two different things. One is perceived and the other real.

                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                      Yes, but its the perception that, to my mind, turns the physical characteristics of producing a crop into "terroir" or, as I think I now prefer a "sense of place".

                                                      The two aspects are inseparable if the concept of terroir is to be understood.

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        "The two aspects are inseparable if the concept of terroir is to be understood."

                                                        To you I'm sure it does however I've never heard of this from anyone else; the idea that eating the exact same product in different locations allows said product to express the terroir of where you are consuming it. If I eat a Vidalia onion in Philly it tells me something about Philly? I don't get it.

                                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                                's only when you consume a food in its home -- so a Vidalia onion would only have that "something" if it were IN Vidalia, GA.

                                                          It's much like Louis Armstrong's reply when asked to define jazz -- "if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."

                                                          One day you'll be having a meal in some special place, and boom -- it'll hit you, and then you'll understand.

                                                          (that's not being derisive or snobby, by the way -- it's one of those things that you have to experience, and then it defies description)

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            "so a Vidalia onion would only have that "something" if it were IN Vidalia, GA"

                                                            Is that "something" chemical or psychological?

                                                            Edit: Does it come from the food or the mind?

                                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                                              Where food is grown makes a difference in how it tastes. If somebody gets a warm tingly feeling from eating it at that place; more power to them but that is something different.

                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                Comes from the mind, Chinon.

                                                                Hence the references to "sense of place". I appreciate that, as you say, you don't get it.

                                                                I've run out of words that might try to help you understand these feelings we have and can only suggest you re-read my contributions and those of others to see if it helps more on second reading. If not, then c'est la viie.

                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                  And as I've said from the very beginning of this conversation I completely acknowledge the psychological impact that place can have on how we perceive things including food. But psychological impact is not the same as the chemical impact brought upon by way of the environment that the food was grown in.
                                                                  The wife and I travel a bit and were in Berlin just last year eating Blut und Leberwurst, shoulder to shoulder w/ Berliners in a local deli. It was quite an experience and we enjoyed this Berliner dish; that I'm sure benefited from the authentic smells and surroundings. But that wasn't terroir.

                                                                2. re: Chinon00

                                                                  I don't know what it is (and it doesn't matter, really) -- I only know that it is.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    So you can't be sure if some chemical transformation occurs or not within a product when said product is consumed in one place versus another? Isn't it obvious that it is psychological?

                                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                                      I can't discuss it with you, because you've never experienced it...without hooking someone up to monitors, how can you be certain it ISN'T psychological?

                                            2. re: Harters

                                              Terroir is much simpler, Harters. It's really just the effect of soil, climate, farming techniques, etc. on agricultural products.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            I think it has to do with the water and soil, too. There is a discernible difference because of these two factors.

                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              My example is green beans. My grandmother lived in the mountains of north Georgia. She grew the most delicious green beans I have ever tasted. The were old family heirloom seeds and we grew the same ones here in west central Georgia and they just didn't taste the same.

                              It was not her cooking either, we would bring raw beans home and cook them and they would taste just like hers.