book review: American Terroir (and a Giveaway!)

Up for review today is the charming and intelligent American Terroir- Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I was instantly smitten with the clever writing and noble purpose of Jacobsen’s pursuit for the best examples of American terroir. Usually used to describe wine, the French term terroir refers to the individual characteristics of a food or drink based on it’s specific location- that side of the mountain, this specific valley, that small bay. He explains that while terroir has always been an important and acknowledged– even legal– concept for winemaking in Europe, America is just now coming into her own regarding the diversity and complexity of our natural flavors.

photo from rowanjacobsen.com

In the introduction, he explains, “Nature offers different deals in different places. The patterns of wind, waves, light, and life that define a region come through in the plants and animals that grow there. If you want to understand the world– if you find joy in it’s diversity– then those patterns are worth paying attention to” (5). The writing is smooth and clever; his enthusiasm is vibrant and demonstrates a pure passion for serious tastes, which makes the flavors dance on the pages.

Jacobsen’s quest for flavor traverses from northern Canada all the way to Central America, and he crosses just as many boundaries with his food selection. American terroir is certainly present in our burgeoning wine industry, but also in the stunning range of possibilities with honey, chocolate, coffee, mushrooms, wild forest edibles, maple syrup, cheese, apples, avocados, and more. I was especially impressed with the maple syrup chapter (did you know that the sap is boiled down from 40 parts to 1? No wonder it’s so pricey!) and the honey chapter (there is such an infinite variety of honey available from our grasses, flowers, trees, and cacti!). I was also especially impressed with his explorations in the Canadian forest, seeking wild edibles to eat at a restaurant where nearly every item on the dinner menu is foraged from the surrounding fields (sorrel, grasses, flowers, mushrooms, cattails (?!), and more).

The chapters on wine and chocolate are a bit headier than the rest, delving into all manner of production from growing, harvesting, fermenting, and coaxing the best flavors out of these temperamental products. But these chapters were also the most interesting. I was shocked to learn that most wine is actually amended during and/or after production to enhance or create the smokey/oaky/berry/mineral flavors that we so often taste in our vino; likewise, most chocolate sold on the market is considered as ‘bulk’ and only a teeny five percent becomes the seriously good stuff for the few companies undertaking true chocolate creation. He offers recommendations at the end of each chapter for the best of the best in each category- wine, chocolate, maple syrup and honeys can all be found online now, without the arduous journey across the continent to seek out these specific locales.

Books like American Terroir make me long for the relative simplicity of living on the mainland, where it seems like it would be so easy to travel to the apple valleys of Washington, taste fresh cheese from Vermont, or sample the elusive honey from North Carolina. But Hawaii is also home to many unique flavors; all manner of edibles are grown and raised here, to be found at our numerous farmer’s markets, local stores, and small boutiques. So for those of you looking for some of our Hawaii terroir, check out the following links:

Madre Chocolates: One of only a few bean-to-bar chocolate producers in the country, and quite literally the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted; mostly Hawaii-grown, but also some Central American varieties too.

Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch: offering a variety of mountain-grown wines, including a pineapple wine, which is much better than you would expect- light and sweet and not nearly as cloying as I had expected.

Big Island Bees: offering a variety of raw and regular honeys, including varietals like Macadamia Nut Blossom and Ohia Lehua.

Nani Moon Mead: a Kauai-based company selling a variety of meads (honey wine) brewed from local honeys. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of tasting these, but I am anxious do to so!

Surfing Goat Dairy: On the dry slopes of Haleakala, the Surfing Goat company makes the most divine goat cheese ever. At $20 for about four ounces, it’s also some of the priciest- but well worth the expense.

Naked Cow Dairy: The only remaining dairy on Oahu, Naked Cow offers a variety of butters, yogurt, and feta which are available across the state. After a successful IndieGoGo campaign, they will be undertaking a cheese-making operation as well.

And, Vibrant Wellness Journal is super thankful to Bloomsbury Publishing, who has generously offered THREE copies of American Terroir to our lucky readers. To WIN: Leave us a comment below and let us know what is your favorite regional expression of terroir: your local cheese, the wine from your neighbor, the wild edibles in your yard?

One entry per person; winners will be chosen by the random number generator. Contest begins today (March 11) and runs until Sunday, March 17 (midnight Hawaii time- that means extra hours for you all!). Winners will be announced the following week. Please be sure to include your email or website so we can contact you should you win! Good luck!  This contest is now closed!


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About Andrea Bertoli 513 Articles
A vegan chef, cookbook author, educator, writer, surfer, and yogi based in Honolulu, Andrea is also the Accounts Manager for Important Media. Follow her foodie adventures at AndreaBertoli.com, Vibrant Wellness Journal, and Eat Drink Better. Find more from Andrea on Facebook and Instagram