The Taste of a Tree

As is widely known the French have a strong bond with their landscape through taste. Landscape preservation and protection policies in France use ‘taste’ or terroir  as a foremost principle in land management. This results in a much more natural approach to sustainable land management – for example the use of pesticides or herbicides which may alter the soil dynamics and thus risk changing, albeit subtlety, the taste of a regional saucisson or fromage is simply unthinkable.

There are many products which are intrinsically linked to woodland and represent the strong arboreal or sylvan presence in the landscape where the animals or plants grew in the final taste.

The cheese ‘St Nectaire’  is one such product and I defy anyone who tastes it not to be able to also taste ‘tree’. Much stronger woodland based tastes come from the animals within the woods – Wild Boar in particular has a taste which is quite simply a sylvan experience.

The cultural heritage of the UK is interlinked with having relatively little woodland cover. And will always face a conflict where ‘animals’ are traditionally seen as aesthetic contributions to a landscape, separating a landscape further from humans, rather than embracing an interface. For example how many people are or would dare embrace the new populations of wild boar in the UK as a potential new source of food!

But the UK is enjoying a renaissance with its local food and certainly many new cheeses are on a par with the most celebrated of French cheeses, (my very favourite cheese ever is the Cornish Menallack). And as this renaissance continues unabated, will it eventually include ‘woodland’ produce? Certainly the scope of fruit, often wild fruits, which so favour the British climate are being experimented with, producing many new regional drinks and other produce which are very palatable indeed and are more woodland than orchard.

However, asides some progressive small scale producers, the general situation in the UK is trial and error with ‘national’ varieties – this is sad and does not reflect the incredible attributes the British landscape can offer for a wide range of produce for the high end international food market, as well as the local community in which it is made.

Ask a UK citizen what tastes are associated with woodland and the majority I am guessing would probably say ‘mushrooms’ although the UK is probably the least au fait western nation with regards the range and exploitation for culinary purposes that woodland mushrooms offer. I would happily guess that 99% of UK mushroom consumption are farmed field mushrooms. I would suggest that by placing considerable attention towards a much wider choice of foods, many problems, particularly financial benefits for woodland owners and perception of woodland (and hedgerows) by farmers, could be tackled easily and with much satisfaction en route.

There has been much talk and practice of penning animals into woodland, which needs considerably more research as few woodland scenarios cope with such a dramatic change in circumstances. And I even read once that chickens could be kept in woodlands – please do not do this, it rapidly damages woodland soils!

But recognition of silvo-pastoral farming and agroforestry is growing and case study, not least from France, shows its benefits are enormous economically, environmentally and socially. But this is not as simple as many are claiming it to be – to achieve terroir there must be equilibrium between all the sciences of that location to achieve a particular taste and continue maintaining it. All too often in the UK a taste is momentarily achieved by accident and then lost the following year due to over enthusiastic marketing. To follow such production ideals needs a lifetime and longer to achieve.

Anyway, here is my ideal arboreal UK / French fusion menu:

Apéritif – Sloe Gin

Starter – Wild Boar Saucisson on a lime leave salad bed

Main Course  – Sika Deer Rump Steak with a bog myrtle crème fraiche dressing

Wine – Lalandes de Pomerol

Cheese Course – St Nectaire

Dessert – Blackberry crumble

Digestif – Slivovitz

Eau de Vie Distillerie, Sud Vienne, France – copyright Lindsay Dinan-Howard

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