American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen

For centuries, civilizations have observed that certain food sources, whether animal or vegetable, do better in specific geographical areas.  This explains why New England is well suited for maple syrup production, coffee beans flourish in the Central American highlands, and king salmon are plentiful in the interplay between river and ocean in Alaska.  It takes a curious combination of climate, geology, and place for otherwise inhospitable locales to be hotbeds for growing and producing certain foods.

In this humorous account, part travelogue, part ecology primer, and part foodie delight, the author takes the reader on a whirlwind tour among the unsung heroes who live in these places and who go with the ground and the air to create exemplary food products – some from calculated agriculture and others from gleaning what comes their way.  Along the way, you’ll meet cacao growers, artisan cider makers, and forest foragers extraordinaires.  You’ll find out all kinds of details about wine and chocolate that will make you think twice about eating that Hershey bar or guzzling a $10 Australian Chardonnay.  This is probably one of the best books to bring the concept of flavor alive without actually eating, so you’ll likely find a new appetite with every chapter, although it pays to be adventuresome in places.

Throughout, I was amazed at how little most people know about food production, and how much the average consumer gives up taste and experience for convenience.  True, most of the foods described in American Terroir tend to be upper tier, i.e. esoteric and not cheap.  But the book is a great education and eye opener to the outliers who still have a sense of scruples about what goes into the foods they create.  Jacobsen leads a captivating culinary journey with a quick wit and a great desire to show us options of eating that exist beyond the processed food aisles of the grocery store. 

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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