Terroir in Translation: Exploring the Place of Place in the Global Food System – Legal and Institutional

By World Congress Planning Committee

DATE: SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2016                                  TIME: 9:00AM


Session Code: IRSA_24A


Session Description: The concept of terroir, or the way that specific geographic and sociocultural characteristics influence the foods and drinks produced in particular places, has long been associated with its French origins. Yet various permutations and interpretations of terroir can be found around the world: from Mexican tequila to Hungarian tokai, from Wisconsin artisanal cheese to Darjeeling tea, and from Vermont maple syrup to Chiapan mangos, to name a few. The sociocultural meanings ascribed to each of these interpretations of terroir vary widely, a dynamic further complicated by the influence of markets and institutions on conceptualizations of terroir in particular contexts. In some cases, for example, terroir appears to be actively constructed or ‘engineered’ in dialogue with market demands, while in other cases longstanding cultural traditions dominate understandings of terroir. In some national agricultures, terroir is at the center of rural development agricultural policy, for reasons both cultural and economic. Too, the degree to which terroir is inextricably linked to specific ecologies is more fluid than it initially appears, as foods today are constructed and deconstructed at scales ranging from the molecular to landscape levels. This paper session aims to explore new and changing conceptualizations of terroir in a variety of international contexts, primarily exploring non-Western European understandings of the following questions:


  • To what degree is terroir a fixed or fluid concept? To what degree does it reflect an ongoing dialogue between cultures, specific ecologies, and markets?
  • How are interpretations of terroir linked to particular economic and political institutions and underlying power relations? How do interpretations vary between places?
  • What meanings does the construction of terroir in various cultures reflect?
  • How might ‘inventing tradition’ influence how terroir is employed in non-Western European cultures?
  • To what degree are conceptualizations of terroir bounded by taste?


Session Organizers: Kathryn De Master, University of California-Berkeley; Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University


Session Chair: Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University




  1. Lisa F. Clark, University of Saskatchewan; William A. Kerr, University of Saskatchewan

What’s in a Name? Geographic indicators, climate change and the shifting realities of terrior      

The concept of terrior is often included in formalized Geographic Indicators (GIs) for food and beverages. GIs are signs or labels indicating whether a food or beverage has distinct properties based on its geographic origin, or a process unique to a particular area. GIs are used to indicate these distinctions while deterring sales of products carrying similar labels without having GI-determined qualities. Acceptable water sources are included in formalized rules and practices that must be followed to certify a GI distinction, most notably for beverages like Bordeaux wine,Scotch Whisky and Port wine. Climate change and its effect on rainfall and water availability is already having an effect on some production aspects crucial to what makes GI-protected beverages geographically distinct, which raises interesting questions as to how conceptions of terroir and formalized rules and practices behind GI distinctions are evolving in the face of climatological changes.This paper discusses how climate change is influencing how the concept of terrior is encoded in legally recognized Geographic Indicators and how this will influence international regulation, recognition and trade flows in GI-protected food and beverages.It explores what climate change could mean for GI-protected beverages that include local water sources as an important part of their distinctive qualities and how the realities of climate change may require reinterpretations of terroir as understood in the context of GIs.


  1. Mariagiulia Mariani, CIRAD, UMR Innovation & Università di Catania; Clarie Cerdan, CIRAD, UMR Innovation

Constructing terroir and origin food in Morocco: the case of Chefchaouen goat cheese  

This paper explores the concepts of ‘terroir’ and origin food in Morocco, their complementary or contradictory interpretations and policies. Within an evolutionary perspective considering the institutionalization of ‘terroir’ and quality signs as an original collective process, we build on the case of Chefchaouen goat cheese Geographical Indication. We show how the construction of ‘terroir’, shared by public and private actors, moves from different experiences, interests and representations. Local biodiversity and know-how have a minor relevance. The national policy for produits de terroir is based instead on quality standards, productivity and profit, where successful projects marketed as ‘terroir’ are replicated elsewhere.


  1. Nathalie Lachance, Université du Québec à Montréal

Portrait of the creation and evolution of the definition of the word “terroir” in Quebec   

Quebec has a short history with its agricultural land—known locally as the “terroir.” But in recent decades, the province’s interest for local “terroir” food production has grown. Ice cider, Agneau de Charlevoix (Charlevoix Lamb), and Chanteclerc Chicken are just a few examples of local products that bear the imprint of Quebec’s culinary history. And Quebecers are starting to take note! This paper explores how an interest in these products is inciting the people of Quebec to define what a local “terroir”product is, and especially to secure legislative tools to protect these products, which are an important part of Quebec’s identity. We wanted to study the reasons and the processes that led to the definition of these products. Our analysis looks at the history of reserved designations and the creation of the CARTV (Conseil des Appelations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants du Québec) under the scope of Anselm Strauss’s concept of negotiated order. We will present a socio-historical overview of how local “terroir” products got their name, and of the structural context that shaped their definition as it is known today. We will also cover what it means for the CARTV as well as for local producers in Quebec, and we will paint an accurate portrait of the creation and evolution of the definition of the word “terroir”, a first for North America.

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