With this month’s blog focusing on all things hyperlocal, we thought we’d zoom in on Greater Green Bay’s local food landscape. Food culture, as we described in our article Does Friday Fish Promote Well-Being, is one of the elements that truly define a place. In fact, the French even have a word for this. The word terroir describes the unique taste that results from the environment in which a food product is created. Originally used exclusively in wine circles, as foodie culture has expanded, the term is now applied to beer, salt, maple syrup, olive oil and myriad other consumables to describe the place where, as well as the process by which, they were crafted. The end result is that a cheese isn’t a cheese isn’t a cheese, even if it’s all brie. A brie from Normandy might well taste different from the same cheese from Alsace, due to the environmental and dietary differences between Alsatian and Norman cows. Terroir not only impacts the flavor of food, it tells the story of the wind, rain, sun and dirt of a place.
If the cheese example sounds a little snooty, let’s look at a Greater Green Bay favorite: beer. We can see the idea of terroir playing out in the craft beer industry. Thinking back just thirty years, the concept of a traveling to sample a locally produced beer was literally a foreign concept. Unlike the Brits, who regularly traveled between pubs to taste the local inn keepers’ ales, the American beer scene was best defined by the ubiquitous Pabst or Bud signs hanging outside the local corner bar. Yet craft brews in Greater Green Bay have become almost as common as Miller Lite, and the hyperlocal industry of micro-brewing contributed more than $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. In a recent post, Strongtowns blogger Marty Walsh distills some of the characteristics of craft breweries that have made them so successful including the low barrier required to learn the skills of brewing, the repeated and welcomed interaction between the brewer and consumer and the ability of a local brew to translate a feeling or a sense of place into a product. And, as that beer (or butter or regional sausage) begins to show up on Main Street menus and in local bars, a sense of community pride arises that something uniquely local is being shared.
What’s cool is that these characteristics of artisanal entrepreneurship reflect the essence of well-being. When someone is able to learn a skill or even find a hobby that harnesses local place or traditions, it feels purposeful. Sharing that purposeful creation with others creates community. And this sort of artisanal entrepreneurship draws innovation and industry. For every micro-brewer or gelato manufacturer that wants to bring a product to scale, there are opportunities for machinists, marketers and distribution companies to assist. Greater Green Bay is in the process of defining its local flavor, and happily it is reaching beyond brats and cheese. Locally, we are seeing the idea of terroir take the form of local artisan incubators like the Brown County Culinary Kitchen shared-use kitchen incubator and NWTC’s Artisan and Business Center, which allows “open studio” time in a range of different creative mediums including textiles, ceramic, woodworking and metals.
In our next blog, we’re going to chat with a few local food entrepreneurs about their experiences with the Greater Green Bay food scene to learn more about this growing field. Do you have a favorite example of Greater Green Bay “terroir?” If so, share it here!