words by savannah gates
photography by eric killingsworth
This is a word often used to describe wine in a “sophisticated” manner. If you look at the environment where the grapes were grown, you could observe elements such as climate, soil, temperature that year (both day and night), topography, farming practices and methods in which the wine is made. These elements make up what is summarized as “terroir” and give each wine its own essence or soul. Although it is present in most things that we eat or drink, the coffee industry seems to be the only other product that commonly refers to “terroir” when describing taste notes. But what might you find when you take this term and look closer to home.
There is something that shifts inside when you grow your own food. You start to understand “terroir” on anew level and taste the difference in the details. It is what makes the memory of your first tomato straight from the garden stand out so strongly. It is why melons at the grocery store just are not the same after you start buying from the local farmer’s market.It is how honey from your local beekeeper is so much sweeter. Then you start raising and harvesting our own animals, and that depth drills even deeper.When you spend days in an unprecedented winter storm bundled up hauling buckets of hot water and food, collecting chickens that are disoriented in the now, stretching tarps and anything else you can find to insulate your animals from the cold wind, carrying loads of firewood, wrapping the incubator in blankets by the fire so that your unhatched babies might make it without power, and then everyone survive, the depth reaches places you did not know existed. Especially for a chef that has devoted her life to food. This is a snapshot of the labor of love behindChef Rose’s ducks and geese used for home-made sausage in the third course alongside a bouquet of peppers to pair with Babylonstoren’s gorgeous Mourvedre Rose. Customers joke about professionals like her having secret ingredients that make it impossible to reproduce their recipes at home, but the truth is, that secret ingredient is not secret at all.It is the result of their craft being rooted in love, and when they are connected to the ingredients from start to finish, you can taste the difference in every bite
The United States discards an estimated 80 billion pounds of food per year, making us one of the most wasteful countries in the world. When you live in the land of plenty and have “seasonal” produce available at your fingertips, it is easy to lose touch with the roots of the food system. “Waste” is usually even lower on the priority totem pole. As we discussed before, something shifts when you grow your own food, and when you hatch, raise, and harvest your own birds, waste suddenly becomes a much more predominate subject. This was the case when Chef found herself with an abundance of poultry carcasses left over from carving for sausage. From what would appear as trash to most, came the most incredible base for a South African style curry to pair with a charming Shiraz. Chef infused an additional layer of love into the dish with goat meat from an animal that had been tenderly cared for by her own hands since before birth. Some guests gasped when they found the meat in their bowl had a name, but from the farmer’s perspective, they provide their animals the absolute best life with one bad day. And when you introduce a chef to farming, suddenly there is an art behind how the animals are fed as they now have the power to influence that element of the terroir. When a chef labors in the heat, building fence to protect those animals that will later be used to feed a crowd, waste is no longer an option. Creativity blossoms, and everyone invited to their table benefits from the holistic approach to the culinary art.
In the 1990’s Ostrich farming boomed in Texas as an alternate red meat during the Mad Cow Diseases care. Interest in ostrich eventually declined until avian flu hit South Africa in 2011, giving surviving ostrich farms a second chance. Since then, the continued popularity of lean, exotic meats has sustained farms such as Clark Ostrich Ranch, just a couple hours away from Granbury. Layers of connection to South Africa in this dish called for simplicity in preparation to allow the meat to speak for itself with just a dusting of smoked sea salt, a kiss of the grill, a side of garden-fresh zucchini, completed with a rustic chimichurri. To accompany this epic finale, it was only fitting to pair one of the oldest cultivated grapes in viticulture history, Cabernet Franc. Usually, this grape takes a supporting role in blends, but when grown in optimal“terroir” such as the old seabed of Helderberg, Stellenbosch, wine makers such as David Finlayson of Edgebaston Vineyard bottle nothing short of magic with 100% Cabernet Franc. A lesser-known fact about this grape varietal is that it is the parent grape of the top two most popular grapes in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Do a little digging in ‘Wine From Neolithic Times to the 21st Century’ by Stefan K. Estreicher, and you will find a rich history of how these grapes were accidentally bred in southwestern France.
To end the night on a sweet note, braided donuts, known as koeksisters, dipped in local mesquite and wildflower honey, were served for dessert with the classic pairing of coffee, specifically a bright, fun bean sourced from Ethiopia and roasted by SuperGood Coffee Roasters in Austin. In the United States, a Central or South American coffee is more familiar and commonly consumed with a traditional nutty and chocolatey profile. In contrast, many nerds in the coffee fanatic realm anxiously await the season every year for bright, delicate African coffees such as the one that filled the air in closure of the culturally rich evening. Details continued with the offering of cream from a nearby dairy that offers low-temperature pasteurized products. Because of their processing method, the fluctuating nuances of milk can be detected by experienced baristas who handle the products daily as the “terroir” of the seasons change along with the pampered cows’ diet.
Food is estimated to travel an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate in the United States. The next time your neighbor offers farm-fresh eggs, take time to notice how much more flavor and color is packed into each little nugget. The closer you are to the source of what you consume, the more relevant“terroir” becomes.
Do you know any local farmers or ranchers? Do you know which chefs in your community go the extra mile to build those relationships and support local agriculture? Do you support the art of those chefs regardless of imperfections and higher prices for quality ingredients? When you travel, do you seek out chains that offer familiar, redundant cuisine or do you dig for those eateries who express a sense of place? It is the red pill worth choosing with an infinite positive ripple effect, and as the consumer, you hold the power in your own “terroir.”
“Customers joke about professionals like her having secret ingredients that make it impossible to reproduce their recipes at home, but the truth is, that secret ingredient is not secret at all. It is the result of their craft being rooted in love, and when they are connected to the ingredients from start to finish, you can taste the difference in every bite.”
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