In the book “Molto Italiano”, Mario Batali coins a very good phrase that helps to put Terrior into a proper frame of mind. “What grows together goes together.” He said this in reference to pairing Italian wine with Italian food, but it really reflects what is meant by the word terrior.
Terrior translates into the environment that ingredients are grown and formed in. It could be anything from the soil to the very air surrounding the item. An example of this would be as simple as the flavor of an apple from Michigan compared to an apple grown in Washington. They could be the same breed but because of their environment they actually have very subtle differences in color, taste, and texture.
Shun is an item at the precise moment and season when a food is at its very peak of taste. From the very moment a food is harvested its quality begins to decline. This is evident when you look at the quality of one item; say a tomato that was grown in one area then shipped to an entirely different area. The tomato is at its best quality in the area it was originally picked.
Our culinary history is filled with attempts to maintain the perfect shun of a food after it has been picked. What happens though, is in the process of preservation the item is physically changed. An example of this is the difference between an ancho chili and a pablano chili. These two chilis are essentially the same, but in the drying process they have become two seperate entities entirely. The flavor profile for the ancho is not quite the same as that of the pablano.
Umami is taste memory, originally discovered by a Japanese doctor who was looking for the source of meat flavor. In this process, monosodium glutamate was discovered. MSG is termed as a meaty flavor. He was looking for a commonality between food items as far as flavor and taste went.
We are affected by all three of these when we cook. Our ultimate goal should be to pick ingredients at the height of freshness, from within the region we are in. We should build our taste memory to find flavors that comingle to bring out the perfect pairings.
Throughout history we have worked to find ways to maintain this freshness and extend the reach of our foods. Every region has found ways of preserving foods, preferably at the peak of the foods freshness. This preservation is twofold.
The most important use was storage. If a food were to rot, its freshness, flavor, and eatability would be compromised. Going back to the example of the chilies, the Latin American Indians found that they could extend their harvest by drying their peppers. The effect was not the same as the fresh pepper but they incorporated these dried peppers into their diet anyway and it then became a staple of what made up their cuisine.
The other part of preservation was transportability. By preserving the harvest you were able to travel farther while still keeping good food with you. An example of this would be the origin of salt cod. Spanish and Portuguese fisherman had to travel far away from the mainland to fish for cod. By curing the fish they were able to bring home the harvest without the fish going bad before their return.
In all of this the preserved food, though still not the same as fresh, became a part of the culinary repertoire of the culture it originated from. The Japanese use pickled ginger and cured tofu just as they use fresh. The item is not quite the same as an unpreserved item but it still has a niche in the way the culture eats and prepares food.
Fermentation is also used to preserve the harvest. Whether it be cucumbers into pickles, grapes into wine, or cereal grains into beer, our aim is to protect part of our harvest so that we can make use of it later.
In Brewing, we only see true terrior in hops. The malt we use can be controlled by the maltster. The water chemistry is controlled by the brewer. But the hops, just like grapes in wine are dependent on their surroundings. An example of this is the difference between US Saaz versus European Saaz. The European version tends to have less alpha acid as well as a more refined character in the beer.
The shun of a fermented beverage many times will require experience to truly determine. Luckily this is something that has been going on for quite some time. We have the experience of others who have traveled this path before us to use as a guiding light on our travels. Does this mean that we can be guaranteed of exact values? Absolutely not. This like cooking is where artistry comes in. Until you have really done this all you can base the experience on is approximations. But then even after you have done this, you are still in a land of approximation but you have a better compass.
I think I may have gone off the deep end on this one … I need a pint…