Certified Levels of Terroir

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The original French term "gout du terroir" translates as the "taste of place." That idea, shortened to just "terroir," includes a complex set of variables: the climate, the soil, the way the product is grown or made, culture and tradition. As a result, the term means different things to different people. To some, it's as simple as a food or wine that hails from a specific region. To others, it requires that the products be made using high standards or traditional methods.

The European Union identifies three kinds of terroir for wines, olive oils, butters, cheeses, meats, honeys and breads:

· Protected Designation of Origin products, or PDOs, such as pecorino Romano cheese and kalamata olives, are associated with a specific location and made in a traditional way.

· Protected Geographic Indication products, or PGIs, such as Alsatian honey and bresaola (air-dried beef), have a geographic connection for at least one stage of production but not all.

· Traditional Specialty Guaranteed products, or TSGs, such as mozzarella cheese and lambic beers, have traditional ingredients or production methods but are not linked to a specific region.

The closest the United States has come to sanctioning the concept is what's known as a certification mark, a sort of Department of Agriculture trademark that identifies the product's origin but makes no mention of tradition or standards. Vidalia onions have a certification mark that ensures that no one outside 20 counties in Georgia is permitted to sell onions as Vidalias.

In the future, U.S. advocates of terroir hope to use certification marks to help define regional foods. Researchers at Iowa State University have examined the potential of the Muscatine melon, which has been grown on the sandy banks of the Mississippi River for 150 years. Researchers believe the region's coarse, glacial soil and extended warm growing season produce a juicy, intensely flavored cantaloupe. They are also examining traditional products including sorghum syrup, rhubarb wine and black walnuts.

-- Jane Black

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