Artisanal foods have become quite popular in recent years, with some abuse of the term by mass-retailers and fast food restaurants.
So, what is artisanal food in the most honest and rudimentary of definitions? It is food hand-produced in small batches, with emphasis on quality of individual ingredients and, thus, product as a whole, while often exploring a creative melding of flavors.
Recently, I sampled chèvre and feta from Windy Hill Goat Diary in Cherry Valley. The chèvre sampled came in flavors ranging from salsa to maple. I consider myself a fairly creative person, but I don’t think I would have thought to make a bacon-and-ranch-flavored cheese (let alone the logistics of actually making it). But, it makes sense — we often incorporate cheese into salads with bacon and ranch, so why not incorporate those flavors into the cheese?
I spoke with owner and artisan Barry Gaughan and learned he began raising goats in high school. Soon after, he realized he would like to work with goats for a living. “Cheese seemed like the way to go. So, now, we are producing farmstead goat cheese,” he said.
Gaughan said developing the recipe to achieve the exact flavor he desires is the real art. It is incredibly important to be able to easily replicate the process, to ensure the same great quality with each batch, he added. Harvesting the best materials. Thoughtful experimentation.
Those are steps all artists can identify with, including food artisans. And, the ingenuity doesn’t just stop with the creation of a single food product. Eateries are also using artisanal foods in their menus, thus inspiring a whole new set of artists creating a final product. The process is comparable to a bead maker selling beads to a jewelry designer. The jewelry designer takes the beads, combines them with other materials, and creates a necklace. Although consumers are no longer buying just the beads, the beads play a vital role in the new product.