The Terroir Symposium was April’s must-attend event in Canada.
Whether you are in the foodservice industry or not, in Canada or not, curious about local or not, the Terroir Symposium is a unique chance to learn from thought-leaders, visionaries and influencers about the power of terroir and its three pillars that brings us all together: generosity, excellence and authenticity.
So of course, Menu Magazine and Restaurants Canada went!
But let me back up for a second. What is Terroir?
It is the complete natural environment in which a particular produce is grown and includes factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. In other words, terroir is what makes your product truly unique.
What a great selling feature right? Well, this is precisely why this year’s symposium was all about Terroirnomics – a.k.a. the economy around terroir.
And there is a strong and growing economy around the truly local products that are unique to the land they come from. From a different flavour profile to a different story, there is a growing demand for terroir and specific ways to approach it.
Here are four ideas that got us thinking.
The power of image supports the power of education
Plan B Organic Farms found a modern way to share their farm news and knowledge. With the support of a local food photographer and client – Irene Matys – they are teaching social media crowds the importance of their work.
A camera – that’s Irene’s favourite tool. She uses the photos to spread news digitally, like for example what’s in season and literally coming out of the ground. Her followers can see the excitement, relate to the farm’s life and, more importantly, learn about what is fresh and available.
Irene also shares drool-worthy pictures and recipes of the dishes she prepares with the fruits and vegetables picked that day. She provides ideas on what to cook and how, empowering others to do the same and taste their terroir.
Because terroir is from our own land, as a consumer it is easy to relate to it and to want to support our farmers – especially once reconnected through the power of an image and a story. Irene is building a passionate and engaged community of terroir supporters and, with her photos, she is helping a farm continue to work on unique, naturally produced, local flavours.
Time to put your money where your mouth is
That is Dr. Sylvain Charlebois’ motto.
As a professor at Dalhousie University, Sylvain believes that our food is too important for us to cut on costs, both from a consumer and foodservice perspective.
“Think about it”, he says, “you are not only eating calories and proteins.” And he is right, there is much more to an apple, for example, than just the amount of calories. Behind every apple, there is a flavour, texture, look, smell, a producer with a specific farming process, soil, a team and objective. Even the apple’s story is to be taken into consideration. What the apple “ate”, how much attention it got, how long ago it was picked, how much it travelled and how it was stored – all of these factors will not only impact the apple itself and the planet, but also the amount of nutrients you will get out of it.
“You have to consider what your food means not only to you but also to your community”, he adds. Sylvain insists that you can take action by putting your money where your food is. You have the power to invest in your community wellness and welfare, and help develop the flavours of your land. By putting your money where your mouth is, you are in fact cultivating terroir yourself.
From people to plate to palate
Elene Arzak is the chef and co-owner of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Arzak, in San Sebastian, Spain. For her, terroir starts with the people. From the people who grow the produce, to the people who cook it, that is where the story starts. That’s the reason why she takes the time to go to the market every week and talk to the producers. She listens to the farmers’ stories and learns which produce is best today and why. Then, she brings the produce along with the stories back to her kitchen team, and makes sure these narrative and emotions are transcribed into the plate.
She also understands that palates are evolving and becoming curious if not adventurous. Running a restaurant that has been around since 1897 requires you to adapt to increasing expectations and fight the risk of boredom, from both your customers and cooks. So what’s her secret? Two types of collaborations.
First, a flavour collaboration. Elene relies on two distinct types of participants to the dish: raw products and ingredients (spices and other dry components). To her, raw products must be local, where ingredients can come from all over the world. That is how she provides the best flavours of her terroir, served with international twists, adapting to all palates sitting at her restaurant.
Terroir also lies in the talent available in these places and through this, another opportunity for collaboration. Elene uses talent across various industries. Why only rely on cooks to create a dish? Instead, she works with architects, historians and artists to give life to an edible piece of art.
Let’s grow a successful terroir destination
A successful terroir destination starts by getting all the producers and the locals involved. The whole community needs to be proud of their products, share how special they are and spread the love of their land.
But once you have reached out to your community and built some support and awareness locally, how do you do reach out to the rest of the country, or to the world?
Sylvia Augaitis, Executive Director for the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, makes a good point: “You have to make your town accessible”. She uses the example of the Niagara Region: after developing their wine lands, stories and educational activities, they needed to expand their reach and make sure the world could experience their terroir. They did so by opening new ways of transportation to access the region: bus trips, holiday packages and direct flights to Niagara.
Awareness matters a lot for our regions but also for our country. Not only will these initiatives increase tourism and Canadian cultural richness, but they’ll also contribute to the Canadian economy as a whole. “You have to remember that for every bottle of wine sold, local wine contributes on average $12 per bottle to the economy instead of $1 for imported bottles”, adds Sylvia.
The economics of terroir are full of optimism. Terroir brings in a new chance to grow cultural identity and flavours, while supporting the national economy.