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American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields Hardcover – August 17, 2010
100 Books for a Lifetime of Eating & Drinking
If you want to make an authentic tagine, bake mouth-watering cakes, or vicariously experience the life of a chef, you’ll find the book for it on this list.
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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
Top Customer Reviews
While most chapters are devoted to specialties of American regions, Jacobsen goes across the northern border to Prince Edward Island (potatoes) and Quebec (forest foraging). Jumping across the southern border we learn about special coffee (Panama), avocados, and chocolate (Mexico). Here in the U.S. Jacobsen presents maple syrup (Vermont), varietal honeys (various places), Totten Inlet oysters (Washington), wines (California), and washed-rind cheese (Vermont).
Each culinary gem has its own chapter. The writing is especially engaging and informative. The first chapter is about producing maple syrup in Vermont. The author is able to describe in wonderful and amazing detail how the sap develops in the maple tree. Producing syrup from sap is a long and arduous process. Chapters end with recipes and resources that are quite useful. Midway through the book is a collection of color photos from the places discussed.
Anyone interested in the nuances of excellent food sources will enjoy this book. Be warned, it will make you hungry. The writing is fully engaging and the book ends too soon.
Unfortunately there is one serious omission. The book has no index. Where is Peet's Coffee? Yes, it's in the coffee chapter, but where? How about the fiddleheads, where are they discussed? Quite frankly, in a book like this the lack of index is inexcusable.
Rowan Jacobsen writes in a funny but detailed way, giving you an abundance of history, science, and culture in short but dense sentences that never become a chore to read. In fact, when I fell asleep reading this at night I was unhappy because I wanted to continue reading it, not go to sleep. This is in stark opposition to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (TOD), which I am struggling to finish after a year of trying to get into it. I ought to like TOD, because I ought to like Michael Pollan and his work for better food and agriculture in America, but I just don't like it that much. This book, this little gem of red rowanberries, this I LOVE!
The chapters deal with the following ingredients and food products: maple syrup from Vermont, coffee from Panama, apple cider from New England and apples from Washington State, honeys from everywhere, potatoes from Prince Edward Island, wild mushrooms and native plants in southeastern Canada, oysters from Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, avocados from Mexico, Yukon River King Salmon, unusual wines from California, cheese from Vermont, and chocolate from Chiapas in Mexico.Read more ›
Granted, I was disappointed to flip to the index to look for Michigan only to discover that there is no index. Then I started reading. I learned much more about how food is grown, processed, and affected by its environment that I even realized. The other day I started a conversation with my co-workers about potatoes, for goodness' sakes.
At first I was a bit confused by the chapter titles. "The Fresh Young Thing," "Little Truths," "That Totten Smell"-what kind of foodie book was this? Then I realized that the author is calling us to think about foods and where they come from, to respect them, to become friends with them. Each has their own personality.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book covers a lot of ground and is fascinating for the most part. There are a couple of factual errors especially in the chocolate chapter that makes it hard for me to give it... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Zach J Lohman
This book is to be savored.
I am very blessed in that a few years ago, I moved to rural Maine where we savor local honey, maple syrup, and heirloom apples and potatoes, weird... Read more
I was heading to Sonoma and wanted to learn about terrior when I found this book. Although only one chapter is dedicated to wine, I walked away with a solid understanding of the... Read morePublished on October 4, 2014 by TBitler
Fascinating reading. Educational and enjoyable.Published on August 29, 2014 by Steven Johnstone-Mosher
Great set of stories that covered more than just food - ideas are the key!Published on June 30, 2014 by Michael J. Heffler
Food and cooking is my passion, and how I make my living. I own a good reference library, as all good cooks should. Read morePublished on May 25, 2014 by UrbanMonique
I finally understand why I can taste things like melon and peaches in some wines, and why some apples are crispy and others not. Read morePublished on April 19, 2014 by Can't travel so cook
a highly rated tome which links the unique qualities and taste of food to the location it was grown -Published on January 19, 2014 by caffeine