Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Top 10: American Terroir

First in a series of reviews of my 10 favorite books read in 2010, presented in alphabetical order.

American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen
[Terroir is] a partnership between person, plant and environment to bring something unique into the world. The soil and climate set the conditions; the plants, animals, and fungi respond to them; and then people determine how to bring out the goodness of those foods and drinks.
American Terroir* is Jacobsen’s exploration of that “taste of place” -- why certain locales grow certain plants and animals so well, and the attentive harvesting and processing that transform them into outstanding foods. Think artisanal not industrial; imagine a reversal of the past century’s flight from the farm and from all things "earthy."

Jacobsen organizes years of research and tasting into a dozen essays, each a primer on a food and an armchair trip to a locale: Vermont maple syrup, (hard) cider and cheese; Washington apples and oysters; California wine; locavore honeys and mead wine; Alaskan salmon; Prince Edward Island mussels; Quebec mushrooms and forest greens; Mexican avocados and chocolate; Panamanian coffee.

There’s history, biology, climatology, gastronomy, agriculture, production and business, and as close to a tasting as a book can get ... all packaged in Jacobsen’s engaging narration, which has hints of Michael Pollan and Mary Roach. And each essay concludes with a recipe or two plus a list of sources that made me dizzy with possibility (first up: an orange-blossom sparkling mead wine).

*pronounced like Renoir

Review based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher

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