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What do you think "artisanal" means?


Fat Guy
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Incidentally, I'm seeing it spelled two different ways on this thread: "artisinal" and "artisanal." My understanding was that the second is the correct spelling. Is this a British/American thing?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Artisanal relates to the means or style of production NOT the end result.

I just think this is wrong and it is not the way the market uses it. What is at issue is whether a product TASTES LIKE it was made carefully by hand. There are plenty of poor products that were made artisanally that we don't care about. Artisanal in the way that we use it, which I think is what FG asked, is what someone who is involved with quality food products means when they use the phrase. Arguing that the dictionary definition is the one that should be used is sort of a pointless exercise because we don't use artisanal to describe products other ones that meets the requisite quality requirements.

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There isn't even a real dictionary definition to argue from. It only shows up as a form of "artisan" in the two unabridged dictionaries I have, with no further explanation. I think the definition is being arrived at collectively by writers and readers (and speakers too) at present.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Gourmet, September 2002, the "Healthy Living" issue, had an article by Merilyn Simonds about Quebec's Eastern Townships (Brome-Missisquoi region), a small area that is the "balmiest in the province, a bit of backcountry where the blossoms break first and the harvest lingers longest. Topography and microclimate and a certain sensibility in those who work the land have combined ... to create a sort of nascent Napa or an eastern version of the Willamette Valley ... a small paradise for the palate." A meal of smoked duck breast, rabbit terrine, confit, gruyere, sheep's milk cheese, chevre, and blue cheese are described as an "artisanal feast."

Saveur has a monthly feature called "Source" that's often about artisanal products. November 2002 Food & Wine has a feature called "artisans" about Leo's Latticini. I don't know if this feature is going to appear regularly or not.

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Artisanal relates to the means or style of production NOT the end result.

Do you think that's the current usage in food writing, though?

I think it can mean anything you want in food writing. Artisanal seems to be a newly coined word, probably by people in the marketing industry. (Soon we will have artisanal ads.) I did a search on "artisanal" and we now have among other things "artisanal fisheries" and "artisanal art." Make it mean anything you want.

As with FG, I haven't even found the word in a dictionary. Only artisan. And the clearest definition of that seems to be, "A skilled manual worker; a craftsperson."

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Incidentally, I'm seeing it spelled two different ways on this thread: "artisinal" and "artisanal." My understanding was that the second is the correct spelling. Is this a British/American thing?

It's a spell-check/no spell-check thing.

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It seems to me that the adjectivial form has been brought into use recently in food writing. I have never seen iy used in writing about art or other craft, while the noun is used frequently. This leads me to believe that there is a forced, invented quality to the adjective, one that invites inference (more economical than the assumption of implication), and, worse, manipulation at the hands of marketing people, which is what Steve is talking about.

Can someone check the OED? Does the adjective officially "exist"?

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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It's not in the OED 1971 edition that I have, but that would only be "official" for English-English. I'd defer to Random House Unabridged for American-English, and the 1993 edition does list artisanal as the adjective form of artisan. But there is no further explanation. Ditto Merriam-Webster online.

I like the sound of the word. I'm in favor of its inclusion in the language. I'm just having trouble with usage and interpretation.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Artisanalish?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I don't know where the "artisinal" comes from although I'm seeing it used by reasonably well educated members. "Artisanal" comes from artisan, or craftsman. I'm wondering how long this word has been in use in the English language. For me it's a word lifted from the French. It's a word I don't recall using until I started seeing it used to describe certain (mostly food) poducts in France. Jars of fig jam at a farm stand might have the word on it, as would lovingly produced mi-cuit foe gras sold at the local market. This was foie gras that was lightly cooked and packed in mason jars by a small producer, often the wife of the farmer who raised the geese. Sometimes it was the product of a slightly larger set up, but always had the distinction of not being factory made. The word was also used on signs and leaflets advertising the source. Another word that is almost synonymous is "fermier" as in "produit fermier," or farm product. The canned corn in the supermarket may have originally come from a farm, but fig jam that bears the label "produit fermier" should have come from the farm that grew the figs.

It may well be that today the word means high quality in the US as Plotnicki says, but that seems to be a gross misrepresentation, and as unreasonable to me, as calling any cheap red wine, "Burgundy," or carbonated wine, "Champagne." We still do both of those things here in this country although the EU has adopted and enforced the French laws in that regard. Earlier, in another thread, I asked if anyone knew if the word "artisanal" was controlled in France and I don't recall getting an answer. My guess was that you cannot legally use the word "artisanal" on a label in France unless you complied with a legal definition. I may be wrong about that and in any case, it wouldn't stop people from misusing it in speech or arguing about whether Pain Poilane was an artisanal product or not. Plotnicki is free to argue that there is no longer a relationship between artisan and artisanal, and that if tastes good, it's artisanal, but anyone else may claim it can only be used to describe cheese or foie gras or whatever they'd like to believe.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I don't think the word is that confusing. As it becomes more and more of a marketing ploy, then it's up to us to make the distinction when we buy/consume.

For example, there was a lot of press this summer about the sausages and other salumi being made in Lupa. This is so clearly artisanal (and I think was called that in the media) -- from what I understand they butcher pork that isn't mass produced (I think from the Berkshires??) and cure it all themselves. I'm sure parts of the process are aided by machines and I don't think that matters. What matters is how it tastes, and these were so apparently, by the taste, texture, appearance, not mass-produced.

A similar word that gets used a lot is "terroir." I was reading that in Italy they have the concept of nostrano, which comes from nostro, "ours." In The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, she writes: "Nostrano lays claim to food, saying this is from our land, from our place in the world ... Food is all about microclimates, changing from place to place -- which is why traditional, handmade and local are everything to quality in Italy. The culinary artisan is master...."

Another concept is "campanilismo," referring to the church bell tower in each village; everything within the sound of the bells is identified as nostrano. The third food concept is "si sposa," it marries, meaning that foods from the same region go together. She gives the example of using a Sicilian sheep cheese on a plate of risotto alla milanese; it's a given that these will not taste right together because they come from different food cultures, a northern European-influenced cuisine vs. Sicilian with its Arab, Greek and Mediterranean influences.

My point is that there's a real meaning to terms and we can only stretch it out so far before they become meaningless. We can't all eat food grown and fashioned within the sound of our neighborhood's church bells, but we can learn to distinguish what's real and what's a marketing ploy.

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I first came across this many years ago from a French source where a dish was described as "artisanale", which in the context would fit well, so it may be a fairly straight lift.

Back to the point. Insofar as there is an adjectival use of the word artisan (and this sort of use is increasingly acceptable) then it has to mean "in the manner or style of an artisan". Now the definition of artisan infers the use of skill so something produced artisanally (cunning slide into adverbial usage) would imply that the end product was of at least reasonable quality. But in the matter of food it can ONLY apply to the process and not the taste (implied good).

A meal of smoked duck breast, rabbit terrine, confit, gruyere, sheep's milk cheese, chevre, and blue cheese are described as an "artisanal feast."

All this means is that the foods presented were prepared by artisans, i.e. craftsmen. Period.

Of course if you want to wilfully change a word's meaning then feel free to continue an ancient tradition, but then we may get to the Looking Glass point where you have no idea what anybody is talking about because they all use words differently.

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I just think this is wrong and it is not the way the market uses it. What is at issue is whether a product TASTES LIKE it was made carefully by hand. There are plenty of poor products that were made artisanally that we don't care about. Artisanal in the way that we use it, which I think is what FG asked, is what someone who is involved with quality food products means when they use the phrase.

How could we apply that to wines? If someone could reproduce the taste of a Chambertain, or even Gevry-Chambertain by artisanal or chemical means, should they be allowed to see it as such in the market place? What if someone in Oregon makes a better Pinot Noir than some jerk with property in the AOC area, and what if his wine has a greater resemblance to what one might expect from the AOC? When does it serve us better to have a word mean something other than quality?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I just think this is wrong and it is not the way the market uses it. What is at issue is whether a product TASTES LIKE it was made carefully by hand. There are plenty of poor products that were made artisanally that we don't care about. Artisanal in the way that we use it, which I think is what FG asked, is what someone who is involved with quality food products means when they use the phrase. Arguing that the dictionary definition is the one that should be used is sort of a pointless exercise because we don't use artisanal to describe products other ones that meets the requisite quality requirements.

No Steve, you are wrong. It is important that the word does meet some standard defined by the way it is produced, NOT the end result. You say "we" don't use artisanal to describe products that don't meet quality requirements, but you also say "the market" defines the word. Well, which is it? That is why objective definitions are important. If "we" define it to mean quality, but "they" define it however the hell they want (because "we", the sheep, let them) then the word means nothing. If we, however insignificant we as consumers may be, actually demand some kind of standards, maybe the market will respond.

You may think artisanal means quality, Steve. But, etymologicaly, it doesn't. And if we don't demand that words mean what they mean then we lose the ability to communicate. If artisans (whether or not they make anything of quality) cannot represent their work properly, lost in a haze of dishonesty and miscommunication, they lose the ability to compete with the crap-makers. You believe in competition, don't you? Well, properly defined terms are one of the things neccesary to a (more) level playing field.

Edited by schaem (log)
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There are plenty of poor products that were made artisanally that we don't care about. Artisanal in the way that we use it, which I think is what FG asked, is what someone who is involved with quality food products means when they use the phrase.

Yes, being artisinal does not perforce mean good. If a food writer uses the term, I would take to mean an approbation of quality (depending on the context). If a manufacturer or marketer of food used the terms, I would take it as a marketing technique and judge for myself if it was true. I've had "artisinal" versions of [products that taste like shit compared to a quality mass produced version. So what does that tell us?

Words mean what the vast majority of people think they mean. If we are tallking about communication, then common usage and interpretation is the key determinant of what a word means.

And if we don't demand that words mean what they mean then we lose the ability to communicate.

To argue that most people misunderstand or misinterpret the meaning of a word is useless, unles you are prepared to launch a vast campaign to change their minds.

That does not mean one can take any word and use it any way one wants. If most people you are communicating with will not interpret a word the way you want, then its your problem to figure out, not theirs. (Unless you appoint an obergruppenfeuhrer of language and give him the authority to carry out his orders).

Language is a changing thing. it is not static. Some words change faster than others. Common usage affects meaning. To argue otherwise is really living in an Ivory Tower.

Edited by jaybee (log)
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Look, I used to teach English. I've studied linguistics. I know language is a changing thing. But that, in no way, means that "artisanal", obviously derived from the word "artisan", suddenly means "tasty". The word "artisan" is fairly clearly defined, not just by the dictionary, but by common usage. Most people know what it means. If they don't, they probably don't use it, so common usage doesn't come in to play. I don't think adding an -al to the end suddenly muddles the centuries old meaning of the word artisan.

As for "ivory tower", you obviously haven't seen my apartment.

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Is there any other craft to which readers have seen this term applied? Vague recollections don't count; extra credit for specific citations.

I also like the sound of the word, but I'm not sure I like its usage. If I saw a chair, or a cap made from llama wool described as artisanal, my antennae would go up. One concern would be that the popularization of the term in the food trade and food journalism would result in its retrograde application to other crafts, which have gotten along nicely without it until now. I'd be against that.

The likely spelling would be "artisanal", with the accent on the second syllable. The use of a second "i" probably comes from accenting the third syllable with a "long i" pronunciation.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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It's not in the OED 1971 edition that I have, but that would only be "official" for English-English. I'd defer to Random House Unabridged for American-English, and the 1993 edition does list artisanal as the adjective form of artisan. But there is no further explanation. Ditto Merriam-Webster online.

I like the sound of the word. I'm in favor of its inclusion in the language. I'm just having trouble with usage and interpretation.

Every word ever printed (at least 5 times or so) eventually finds its way into the OED. It is not so much an authority on language as a chronicle of usage. Which is how it should be, because dictionary editors don't invent language. This is an article about some of the latest inclusions in the OED. I'll bet "artisanal" is in there, and I'll further bet that, eventually, if enough editors let it slip by, "artisinal" (with an "i") will be listed by the OED as an alternate spelling. Like, maybe in the year 3000 edition.

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Oy veh, arguing over goodness.

Those who aren't willing to allow the use of word artisanal in the greater marketplace are doing themselves a great disservice. The fact of the matter is that we who love and enjoy top quality food products are desperate for marketing terms that allow us to simply and quickly communicate that a product meets a certain standard of quality. To quibble over whether it's intended to describe the source of the quality (how it's constructed) as opposed to the standard of quality a product acheives is like shooting yourself in the foot. We are all much better off it the commonly held definition in the trade is a product that TASTES LIKE IT IS MADE BY HAND. And for those of you who want to put the English language ahead of being able to get good quality food products in the hinterlands, I suggest you read the dictionary while you eat food from tins.

It never fails that the people here would prefer to argue about the use of language rather then discussing the way food tastes. Because while I raised pain Poillane as an example of something being artisanal/not artisanal, nobody here has said, yes I tasted the bread and it tastes or doesn't taste artisnal to me. Which to me, is the only issue that's worth discussing. Unless of course you like the English language better then food and then you can discuss if the term is being applied correctly ad infinitum. But excuse me if I tear off another slice off pain Poillane while you argue about it. Because in the end, as Robert Brown says, the proof is in the pudding and I don't really care if something isn't artisanal. I just care that it tastes as if it does.

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Steve, I've had my share of Poilaine's bread. It's good bread. It tastes good.

Poilaine designed a bakery with an elaborate setup that allowed multiple bakers to be fed raw materials which they would then use to make bread from start to finish at their own station and their own oven. In a real way, he succeeded in increasing production while maintaining individuality, a terrific business school case study if ever there was one. Whether the people ahead of you in line felt there was better bread to be had is beside the point. Poilaine achieved mass artisanality. I'm not sure whose argument this supports, but I thought you might be interested in the facts.

I'd still like to see specific usage of this term in other fields than food - the adjective, not the noun.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I'd still like to see specific usage of this term in other fields than food - the adjective, not the noun.

I am an artisan, and have been for over thirty years. I would never describe my work as artisanal. This is pure hype, pure bullshit, dreamed up by marketing.

Edited by Nickn (log)
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I'd still like to see specific usage of this term in other fields than food - the adjective, not the noun.

I am an artisan, and have been for over thirty years. I would never describe my work as artisanal. This is pure hype, pure bullshit, dreamed up by marketing.

Is there a difference between an artisan and an artist? If so, please explain.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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It never fails that the people here would prefer to argue about the use of language rather then discussing the way food tastes.

If you don't have a common vocubulary then you can't discuss the way food tastes, or hasn't that sunk in? Pain Poilane may or may not be made in an artisanal manner but the end result is that it tastes good/fresh/yeasty/home-made/delicious or whatever adjective you choose.

We are all much better off it the commonly held definition in the trade is a product that TASTES LIKE IT IS MADE BY HAND

No we're not, and your attempts to subvert the language will not help.

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Is there a difference between an artisan and an artist?  If so, please explain.

I'd say that the artisan deals with things of a more practical and physical nature while the artist deals with things more in the realm of the spirit. But these can become interwoven in each practice.

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