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AMERICAN TERROIR by Rowan Jacobsen


Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields

by Rowan Jacobsen

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59691-648-7
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A locavore and James Beard Award–winning food writer adapts the French wine-growing concept of terroir, “the taste of place,” to champion a variety of foods from the Western hemisphere.

Jacobsen (The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World, 2009, etc.) journeyed from Alaska to Mexico and myriad other places to savor salmon, chocolate and other foods that benefit greatly, he argues, from local conditions, which create the uniqueness of their flavors. After explaining the concept of terroir, the author begins his day with Vermont maple syrup and establishes his expository pattern for ensuing chapters. The author discusses the terrain, biochemistry and natural history of the product (nothing too recondite), introduces quirky local authorities on the item and ends with recipes and suggested websites for further reading. In Jacobsen’s skillful hands, the organization never becomes onerous or even obvious. His exuberance, joy in his pursuit and playful diction combine to spice the literary dish most appealingly. After the syrup, Jacobsen examines Panamanian coffee (and has dark things to say about dark roasts), apple cider from Washington’s Yakima Valley, exotic honeys (there’s a grand one from Pitcairn Island), potatoes and mussels from Prince Edward Island, goodies foraged from the forest floor in Quebec, oysters from Puget Sound, avocados from Mexico, Yukon River salmon, California wines, Vermont cheese and, for dessert, chocolate from the land of the Maya, who, Jacobsen notes, baptized their children in it. Surprise is a constant companion—fine wine from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington? the best authentic chocolate in Somerville, Mass.?—as are the author’s unique comparisons: “In composition and behavior, a cheese is not unlike a dead body. It starts of fresh and springy and ends up ripe and runny.” Unfortunately, many of these products bear prices beyond the means of most consumers.

Savory information presented on a stylish plate.