From Publishers Weekly
Terroir, a French term usually associated with wine, is what James Beard Award–winning author Jacobsen (Fruitless Fall) defines as "foods that are what they are because of where they come from." In a dozen informative and often funny essays spanning breakfast to dinner, Jacobsen deploys an open mind as he travels across North America and Mexico to demystify such curiosities as why the Yakima Valley in eastern Washington State produces a superior apple, how the red earth and algae-filled waters of Prince Edward Island in Canada conspire to create the delicious terroir-driven local dish of mussels and fries, and what makes chocolate "our most complex food." In each case, the answer is ecological and involves the specific interplay of biological, chemical, and geological factors that make an environment and, in turn, its food unique. To underscore that thought, each essay ends with recipes and a resource list. Throughout, Jacobsen cites fellow food writers, including Richard Manning, Michael Pollan, and Hugh Johnson. But beyond issues of slow food and sustainability, Jacobsen's affable, nerdy DIY spirit (he brewed his own mead for his wedding) challenges readers to rethink their relationship to food.
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The belief that individual plots of land can produce significant differences in crops has become an obsession for contemporary gastronomes. Terroir, a French word initially referring to vineyards, now applies to virtually every agricultural product: animal, vegetable, and mineral. Restaurant menus promote their kitchens’ offerings with names of local farms, and consumers demand orthodoxy in sourcing of everything from steak to succotash to salt. Jacobsen documents some of North America’s best growing places and producers. He describes apiculture and honeys in Florida and Arizona. He discovers the best avocados in Mexico’s Michoacán. He finds superior cheeses and maple syrup in Vermont. Northeast Canada yields both mussels and mushrooms. And Jacobsen sources the world’s most esteemed coffee beans from the mountains of Panama. In his travels to these far-flung farms, Jacobsen shows that it is as much farmers’ dedication to their profession that counts as the soil itself. --Mark Knoblauch