Terroir – why we need to understand it.

I remain convinced that the true French concept of ‘Terroir’ remains the answer to the majority of issues in regards the past, present and future of European land management.

The fact that Anglophones just don’t get it, indeed even second language English Europeans, is not just sad but potentially very damaging.

Combined with the increasing amount of frankly obtuse buzzwords, easily twistable, easily confused, it is easy to understand why we are left in a literary desert where the oasis’s are real to a few, but a mirage to the majority – to those that matter.

Terroir may be a French word and thus ‘unsuitable’ for adoption in the increasingly anti European mindset of many English speakers (it’d be interesting to see a word count of how many words of French derivative appear in the Daily Mail!). But it really does remain the very best word to cross all political boundaries and all chasms between those that work in all our landscapes that exists.

Terroir is, as best as I can interpret; Everything within a landscape that afects the soil (which is pretty much everything!) and thus the taste, (and taste, this is the really important bit, equals money). Thus all supplements, be it new development or pesticide usage, can or could, (explaining why the precautionary principle is so important to the French), affect the taste of a product produced there. Therefore terroir is the marriage of all sciences, social and earth, it is all the elements both natural and man made within a place and you.

If any commentator, academic, practitioner or politician suggests an alternative word or phrase they need to justify this – and they will never be able to do so successfully, (but my goodness they do try with extraordinary and very costly – to us as taxpayers – failure), So why bother?

Terroir is ‘Ecosystem Systems’ + ‘Sustainable Development’. It is the value of everything to value anything. Without everything that value is nothing. This includes monetary value and no non ‘commodity’ product exists that has such a high value than a terroir product. Let us be honest, (even the most deep green of ecologists included!) it is and has to be about money. How much is ‘Whisky’ worth to the Scot’s economy, how much ‘Champagne’ to the French? To continue to copy these products is completely stupid – you may win an award, but this is meaningless if you haven’t protected the landscape from which this product is born! You are simply good at plagiarising! Never something to be proud of and not in the case of terroir something that helps the biodiversity and both the natural elements and historic landscape features of the place that product was born.

Terroir negates ‘Sustainable Tourism’ & ‘Sustainable Intensive Agriculture’. Both of which are oxymorons, which is why many don’t understand the terms and certainly with good reason don’t trust them. Terroir however doesn’t attempt to hide behind language that can be easily labeled as greenwash, it doesn’t need to. Tourism and CAP fuelled agriculture is as strong in France as anywhere else, indeed more so. Terroir products enable a secondary economy, one which provides a much needed stable safety net against all agricultural policy making, whilst at the same time providing a tangible link to the landscape you visit. The reason why the food and drink you experience on holiday tastes better when you are there is because of terroir – the smells and intangible emotions of a place are in those products also, heightening your experience. And when purchasing these products you directly aid the protection of that place, the biodiversity, the cultural heritage etc., without any % paid into the considerable administration budgets of a nature conservation NGO.

Terroir equals good health & wellbeing as well as strengthening communities. The French, and other nationalities with terroir diets, enjoy the healthiest diets in the world. The precise reasons as to why this is so remain elusive, however it is clear that there is a correlation with terroir. Cheeses and meats with a wide range of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks only require a basic carbohydrate addition (often terroir produce also) as the flavours are much more distinct. Communities with a shared terroir are habitually stronger as these products require a communal effort due to the effort required at harvest time as the value of many terroir products does not justify the cost of imported labour.

Terroir is Sustainable Soil Management. It really is all about the soil, which we still know little about yet abuse with abandon, contrary to what many commentators and lobbyists believe. In place of a soils directive and indeed stronger in protective measures to anything the directive could have installed, terroir is based on a fundamental to ensure the soil remains as it is to ensure the produce remains as it is. Thus any and all additions to the soil need to be scrutinised hard, from compost to pesticide, biochar to bullsh#t. The UK obsession that we need to improve our soils by supplements all the time is just wrong! We certainly need to improve our soils by tackling the ludicrous consolidation and counter productive drainage methods. But otherwise we can learn a lot by terroir by doing nothing at all.

Terroir is Traditional Knowledge. Quite why we do not have a suitable English translation for terroir is proof indeed as to how much we have lost traditional knowledge and skills. The UK and elsewhere certainly produced a lot of great terroir products (and still do!), the extraordinary quantity of unique landscapes in such a small country allowed for an extraordinary range of produce, (and still can). Terroir is an appreciation of many processes which are slowly but surely being recognised by modern science. Our predecessors were not all stupid peasants carving out the landscape at the instruction of their liege – but had guessed and worked with the extraordinary interconnectedness of everything.

Terroir is not just a word and maybe we’ll never understand the true meaning as any French can. But in trying to do so we will find many solutions and indeed simply having one word where a thousand are used is incredibly beneficial in itself as it will aid ongoing discussion. But I believe there are too many, (both farming lobbyists, suppliers etc., and environmental NGOs and Quangos) who will fight hard against any doing even that!

In the meantime search some terroir produce out and enjoy, knowing that you are aiding the most sustainable and environmentally friendly method of land management in existence in Europe today.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Terroir – why we need to understand it.

  1. Pingback: Timber Terroir – Just how good can wood be? | europeantrees

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