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What do you think "artisanal" means?


Fat Guy
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A gold star on the FG's chart. Thanks for googling.

My feeling is that some part of the increased use of this term refelcts the larger societal longing for its revised view of "the old days", or "simpler times". It also seems more convenient that any of the available adjectives for craft or craftsman.

Let's see, "Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands".

There are no more chestnut trees, and damn few smithys, but I'm sure the ones that are about are manned by burly artisans, doing artisanal things artisanally.

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

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Once again, taste is not subjective. It is on a personal level but it is not on the market level.

:blink::blink::rolleyes::rolleyes:

Good going Steve. Keep it up. Sooner or later we'll get it.

Edit: Sorry, I have to leave for now. Got to go cook a wild turkey with chestnut dressing. Just got back from France with the chestnuts via the Concorde. Does this make it artisanal or arsesanal? :biggrin: Have a good meal everyone.

Edited by Nickn (log)
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Actually, Steve, as I understand it the most famous and widely used state- imposed standard in France is the AOC (and in Italy, the DOCG). And the AOC is concerned with the method of production NOT the end result. They determine if something is worthy of the AOC label, based on say, percentage of specific grapes used, where they came from, and how they are processed. The AOC is not a panel of "experts" tasting something and saying, "Yep, quality". Some AOC products (bad years, bad luck) are no good, but they are still designated AOC, because they adhered to the certified standards of production. I repeat, standards of production, not taste.

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But without the master baker in the shop, the product couldn't be described as artisanal, no matter how tasty.

It is the master baker, whether the original artisan or his/her "descendent" who judges the quality of the product.

But all you are describing is a standard of quality. If LMVH bought Boulangerie Poillane, and installed a master baker to manage a production line of bread making, and the mass produced product tasted as good as the bread did before they bought the place, no, it tasted better, would we be removing the artisanal designation?

Robert S. - You are 100% correct. We use artisanal to say, made the old fashioned way. That's really all the phrase means in a practical sense.

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We use artisanal to say, made the old fashioned way.

But as the Dictionary suggests this is not what it means.

Unless you wish to conflate usage with meaning (definition).

In the field I used to work this is simply known as 'abuse of language'.

There are, of course, also examples of this in periods of very sudden social change.

Wilma squawks no more

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But without the master baker in the shop, the product couldn't be described as artisanal, no matter how tasty.

It is the master baker, whether the original artisan or his/her "descendant" who judges the quality of the product. That's where the objective subjectivity that Steve P. is looking for comes in.

But all you are describing is a standard of quality. If LMVH bought Boulangerie Poillane, and installed a master baker to manage a production line of bread making, and the mass produced product tasted as good as the bread did before they bought the place, no, it tasted better, would we be removing the artisanal designation?

The test I would apply is: did the master baker personally supervise the process? If she/he sat in an office in another town and read quality reports, or occasionally watched parts of the process on a TV screen, then I would remove the "artisanal" designation. Without an artisan present, the product can't be called artisanal. Note that this implies some limit to the scale of the production line. Judgements about the taste -- other than those of the artisan -- are irrelevant to this particular issue.

(note that I edited the quoted post to add a sentence and to correct my stupid misspelling of "descendant". Can only plead: too much beer at a large fish dinner here in Hong Kong...)

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Schaem - You are mistaken about how the AOC works. The AOC was and is an administrative panel of experts that designated vineyard sites based on the unique attributes. For example, they concluded that Montrachet has unique characteristics and they sampled wine from different locations in the vineyard and they drew borders. You cannot label your wine Le Montrachet unless the grapes were grown within those borders. And it's the same concept when you apply it to food. Charolais beef is both a particular breed of cow but the cows also have to graze in a specific location to get the designation. But in both examples, there are producers who make lousy bottlings of Montrachet, and not all Charolais beef is going to be top quality. I'm not expert enough about the beef to explain why that might happen but I can tell you that in the Montrachet vineyard, there are better and worse locations.

I'm going to back into the explanation of terroir if I keep going down this path. The French, when tasting various bottlings of wine from the Montrachet vineyard, would speak of it as exhibiting the characteristics of the Montrachet vineyard or not exhibiting the characteristics. Much of the time the difference is in the technique the winemaker uses. For example and to switch vineyards, Claude Dugat's Charmes-Chambertin is made in a modern style and as a result the specific attributes of Charmes-Chambertin vineyard do not come across in his bottling. But if you taste Christophe Roumier's Charmes-Chambertin, it offers all the characteristics of the vineyard. Both wines get the AOC Charmes-Chambertin label, but one wine expresses the terroir and the other one doesn't.

I am saying that the market has adopted a similar use of the term "artisanal" to the way it uses terroir. When they say something "expresses the terroir," they mean, tastes like it comes from X location. I am using artisanal in the same manner and saying that the key factor is that it appears to have been made by an artisan. Of course you are not going to find many things that are mass produced that actually taste artisanal. But when something is borderline, it gets decided as a matter of the public tasting it and accepting or rejecting the term based on the characteristics of the product.

Gavin - Well I live n a country where the President says Nucular instead of nuclear, and where it is now acceptable to say aks instead of ask. But then again, you live in a place where they have a mumph of Sundays :wink:.

JD - I think that the real test is does it taste as if it was made by an artisan. Because if it tasted as if it was, but it really wasn't made that way, and they lied about it, how would you know?

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english speakers do not understand the concept of terroir and how the French

Steve, you consistently fail to capitalize "English." Is this supposed to be a subtle put-down, similar to LML's consistent mis-spelling of your name? Or, do you not know that the word is capitalized?

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I am saying that the market has adopted a similar use of the term "artisanal"  to the way it uses terroir. When they say something  "expresses the terroir," they mean, tastes like it comes from X location.  I am using artisanal in the same manner and saying that the key factor is that it appears to have been made by an artisan. Of course you are not going to find many things that are mass produced that actually taste artisanal. But when something is borderline, it gets decided as a matter of the public tasting it and accepting or rejecting the term based on the characteristics of the product.

Given that "artisanal" products are obtained in the "market," this makes sense.

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But when something is borderline, it gets decided as a matter of the public tasting it and accepting or rejecting the term based on the characteristics of the product.

I guess what it comes down to Steve, is our respective levels of trust in the judgement of the public. You seem to think that, on the whole, the public or market will collectively exhibit good (objective) taste, thus keeping terms like artisanal honest. I tend to think that the market will not be so selective and, therefore, artisanal will become another watered-down, meaningless marketing ploy. Honestly, Steve, I hope you're right. And maybe in France, you are. But, sadly, I don't think history is on your side in the US.

I make a mean TV dinner, BTW. Handmade sausage, beans baked all day in the "Down-East" fashion, pudding made from artisanal chocolate from the finest, hand-selected Venezualan cocoa.

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Gee I was talking about the language not the people. Do you capitalize when you are referring to the language? I would if I was describing people living in England, not people who speak english/English. Is that incorrect?

Yes. Always in English. The name of the language is, "English."

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I guess what it comes down to Steve, is our respective levels of trust in the judgement of the public. You seem to think that, on the whole, the public or market will collectively exhibit good (objective) taste, thus keeping terms like artisanal honest. I tend to think that the market will not be so selective and, therefore, artisanal will become another watered-down, meaningless marketing ploy.

But this is the history of food. The French were savvy enough to realize that by offering people choices, that it would allow the population to express societal preferrences and that environment would offer the best opportunity to put top quality food on people's tables. They believed that their population would choose well and indeed for a long time they did. Other cultures were more interested in imposing restrictions on eating and drinking habits (how about pubs closing at 11:00pm for one?) because they didn't have faith in what people would choose. You tell me which one worked out better? Even in the U.S. this is true. When the Feds were foreclosing on farms in the 60's and 70's, i.e., eliminating choice, our food quality went in the crapper. It was only as a result of many different "artisans" starting businesses and offered us more of a choice that it improved.

You know the bad parts of democracy and free speech are worth tolerating for the good parts. And if people bastardize the use of the word artisanal, so what? I promise you they will be eating somewhat better as a result of that process. I'd be happy for the people who eat at McDonald's if they offered them "artisanal French Fries" and they got a slightly better product. If that happened, the rest of us would just have to find a new word to describe what we like to eat.

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So theoretically, Pop Tarts could be artisanal so long as we consider them #1. VERY delicious and #2. that the Kellogg's company is an "artist" since Pop Tarts are the first and original toaster pastry and the company has strict control over the makings of each Pop Tart etc. -- even if they are spit out on a conveyer belt?

No they have to taste as if they have been made by hand. Britcook wants them to actually be made by hand. I find that an unneccessary distinction. We gave two examples of things that are mass produced on a small scale which people consider artisanal, Pain Poillane and Le Pain Quotidian. In fact Pain Poillane is considered by most people as the height of artisanality. But Britcook might want to deny them that designation as a matter of semantics. Yet there are bakers all over France these days who have hung a "Fabrique Artisanale" sign outside of their shops who make complete merde who he would be happy giving that designation to.

If anyone wants to know why they traditionally eat well in France, and not in the U.K., just follow the argument in this thread. The French (like the Americans) are happy to throw a phrase like "artisanal" into the marketplace and allow it to become a marketing phrase and then let consumers actually decide what tastes artisanal and what doesn't. In fact I am certain if it became an issue with a certain artisan who modernized their facility to the extent that it became questionable whether he met the technical definition, they would send one of those administrative groups in to taste his product and to see if it exhibited the qualities and characteristics of an artisanal product. The Brits on the other hand are more obssessed with the proper use of the english language then they are with food tasting good and they would clearly deny the use of the phrase artisanal based on the type of strict definition that Britcook would enforce. This is why the French have employed, and I must add, enjoyed the fruits of on their dinner tables, the use of the word terroir. And it is why english speakers the world over are eating things like spam and pop tarts while they are scratching their heads trying to figure out the exact definition of the term.

I want Pop Tarts to be made by hand? Get outtahere.

Pain Poilane (are you EVER going to spell that correctly) is artisanal, never tried to argue that.

More obsessed with the use of English than food tasting good? Enforcing strict definitions? You're having a laugh

I want to know the provenance of my food and I want it to taste good. What is more I want to be able to share that experience by cooking for friends, dining with friends, eating at decent restaurants and discussing the results of all three. I want those discussions to be amiable, enlightening and stimulating and to achieve that all participants need to have a common frame of reference and a mutually understood language. Now if you want to go stretching words beyond their commonly accepted meaning because you want to coin some neologism to assist your marketing efforts then so be it, but you and your ilk will debase the language in the process and ultimately make communication more difficult. Once upon a time I could order a Caesar Salad and know pretty much what I was going to get. Nowadays if I order it God alone knows what is going to appear on the plate. The once commonly accepted phrase for this simple salad has been debased, subverted and hijacked to the point where it is now meaningless. A Caesar Salad is no longer Mr Cardini's invention it's whatever the chef decides it should be.

I want my food to taste good, to reflect the quality of its ingredients and the care taken in its preparation guided by the skill and imagination of the cook. I don't want it to taste industrial, artisanal, home-made, production-line or crap. I want it to taste right.

Terroir puts it in its place. Artisanal describes its method of production. Both will affect the finished product which will, with luck, be better for both. But neither will describe its taste, unless you want it to taste of soil and sweaty hands.

The general view here seems to be that the real debate is about how much mechanisation should be allowed in the definition of artisanal, you seem obsessed with trying to redefine the word entirely. So tell us Steve, exactly what does artisanal taste like?

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you seem obsessed with trying to redefine the word entirely.

My use of the term is actually more restrictive then yours. You want food that is produced a certain way. I am pointing out that the production method doesn't guarantee quality. Is handmade bread made with poor quality flour and commercial yeast artisanal? Is a piece of furniture made by hand but out of plywood artisanal? Is a hand made suit made from polyesther artisanal? I want to limit the use of the word to products that meet a certain level of quality. The only way you can do that is to allow knowledgable people to decide what is artisanal and what isn't.

Your Caeser Salad story is sad but true. Used to be a time where I ordered a Caeser Salad and they would make it from scratch. Now I doubt that happens even 10% of the time. But that is a downside of a free market, free speech system. Our losing the use of that word in a proprietary way (to our class that is) is a small price to pay for allowing those who used to eat iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing the ability to eat a better salad.

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Not too long ago, most food products were made in the family kitchen, or in a small factory or store in the community. It was easy to inquire if the product in question was reliably kosher. If rabbinical supervision was required, it was attended to by the rabbi of the community, who was known to all. Today, industrialization, transcontinental shipping and mass production have created a situation where most of the foods we eat are treated, processed, cooked, canned or boxed commercially in industrial settings which are likely to be located hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. Furthermore, it is often impossible to tell from the label what ingredients or processes have actually been used.
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Is handmade bread made with poor quality flour and commercial yeast artisanal? Is a piece of furniture made by hand but out of plywood artisanal? Is a hand made suit made from polyesther artisanal? I want to limit the use of the word to products that meet a certain level of quality.

That would be no, no no and it does already. An artisan is defined as a craftsman, a skilled worker who will use appropriate tools. As a reasonable inference from that definition a skilled craftsman would not prostitute his ability on inferior materials. And your argument has changed, you now want to limit the use of the word, something you accused me of. If used correctly the word artisanal already implies quality because the product has been made by a skilled craftsman, so what is your problem with that? If it is food I would expect it to taste good. You would expect it to taste artisanal. Once again Steve, tell us exactly does artisanal taste like.

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"Just curious: When somebody calls a product "artisanal" what do you assume it implies, if anything? I'm seeing the word used more and more but I'm not sure there's an actual definition shared by those using it. "(fg)

"My feeling is that some part of the increased use of this term refelcts the larger societal longing for its revised view of "the old days", or "simpler times". It also seems more convenient that any of the available adjectives for craft or craftsman."(rs)

robert is very close to a meaningful answer in trying to tell WHY "artisanal" is being used. i think a nuance can be added by seeing it as associated with the "slow food" wave. it obviously has to do with a feeling that a lot of products don't taste as they should, and knowing that they would be better were they made with the artisan's care and training. because, typically, industrialization is a way of saving time, and saving time is the enemy of taste.

so, in a way steve p is right in saying it has to do with taste (though also with nutrition value). but, as i said a few pages back, making a good product limits the extent of industrializing the process. what exactly are the limits will depend on the product. "An artisan is defined as a craftsman, a skilled worker who will use appropriate tools. As a reasonable inference from that definition a skilled craftsman would not prostitute his ability on inferior materials." (britc.)

"appropriate tools", right?

i don't know what pop tarts are, but i guess one can imagine that they could be made better by an artisan than by kellog's?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Oraklet - The reason that the word is being used more these days is that much of what we eat used to be mass produced. And food producers realized there was a market for people who wanted things that were made with more care. And more care usually means by hand. The problem is, there were always small food purveyors who made things by hand. The local bakery by my mother's apartment, they bake hand made bread every day. But they are not artisanal in the slightest bit. The quality of their baked goods doesn't fit the definition the food industry has adopted which is that the finished product needs to be of a certain quality.

Britcook - I don't know what you want me to tell you. Artisanal tastes like it's been made by hand. I said that a few thousand times a few thousand posts ago and you are still asking me that question. All I have added is that it doesn't have to be made by hand. It just has to taste that way. Any fabricator who knows how to engineer artisanality into his product (Poilane) is okay with me. And is clearly okay with the marketplace. No one should be deprived the use of that word on a technicality because the production process might not meet a strict definition. The test should be the way the product tastes, not the method of making it. To put more emphasis on definitions then on results will only end up with the bakery by my mothers house getting an artisanal designation and Poilane not getting it. Is that the result you want?

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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"The local bakery by my mother's apartment, they bake hand made bread every day. But they are not artisanal in the slightest bit. The quality of their baked goods doesn't fit the definition the food industry has adopted which is that the finished product needs to be of a certain quality."

ok, now i get it: your problem with the "skilled craftsman" is, of course, that he may be skilled, but doesn't neccesarily use his skills. let's agree, then, that we can use the word "artisanal" to mean "as good as it can be made by a skilled craftsman".

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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I do hope that the word does keep its original meaning, which is how I use it. We have plenty of words to describe foods that are tasty, ‘tasty’ springs to mind, but we have no good substitute for ‘artisinal’. Unfortunately, Plotnicki is probably correct and this word is going to go the way of ‘disinterested’ so that when someone uses it we will have no way of knowing exactly what they mean.

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