The Taste of Terroir

Is it really true that the geographic origin of foods affects the flavor and texture of the finished product, whether wine, cheese, or maple syrup? "For instance, with the same procedure, same species of grass feed for the animal, and etc., would a parmesan cheese made in Canada taste different from parmesan cheese made in Italy?" shezmu asked the board recently.

Terroir, as this phenomenon is known, is absolutely real, says Caroline1, but the effect of geographic origin is greater on some foods than others. She feels terroir is particularly important in wine. "Many many years ago I was cooking at my mother's house (not an easy thing to do), and needed a Riesling wine," Caroline1 says. "My mother said she'd run to the liquor store and brought back a 'Spanish Riesling.' That vineyard had soil so chalky it made the wine taste like dirt. Terrible stuff and spoiled the sauce and I quit trying to cook at my mother's house!"

How much of terroir is tied to the physical attributes of the environment or the food itself, and how much is psychologically imbued by the person eating the food? It's hard to know. "I've always heard it explained as more about the character or experience of a place as reflected in its products than simply the effect of soil, climate, etc. on flavor," missmiscellanea says. "Yes, it's probably a subjective thing, but that doesn't make it less real... only less scientific / quantifiable."

Discuss: Is terroir/taste of place real?