So what is terroir, besides a mediocre wine bar in the East Village? (More on that later….) Terroir is a concept in food and wine that basically means the place where something is from. This “place” can include the altitude, soil, terrain, climate and vegetation. The concept of terroir in food is basically that factors and properties within a region contribute to the unique flavors of the cheeses and wines produced there. Terroir is part of the reason that some products can only be made in specific locations around the world, claiming that only a terroir so specific can give a product its attributes. (Is it annoying you that I keep italicizing terroir? It’s because it’s a French loan word, smarty pants…)

This concept is what drives the name-protected cheeses and wines that I’ll be talking about. Name-protected cheeses and wines are protected because: a) that particular area of the world wants a monopoly on a cheese/wine or b) it’s part of their history, they know how to make it, and only they have the terroir to make that particular product. You decide.

What’s interesting about cheese terroir is that it can get really specific, even down to season. So for instance, you can tell (if you’re good) the region and the timing of the milking for a cheese, based on the vegetation consumed in certain regions and the flavor that shows through a cheese!

Okay, so what does this mean to you? For one, you’ll be able to spout off some cool info at a friend’s party, but it also gives some insight into pairing. As a concept in pairing, terroir is the thought that things produced in the same region pair well together. Think of them like brothers and sisters — they grew up together, they know each other, and how each other works, and they mesh well. You know how there were those two siblings at school that had the same smell? It was cause their mom washed their clothes with the same laundry detergent. Or they both absorbed the smell of her cooking and cats. Either way, it’s kind of like that. The cheese and the wine have the same impressions, and they kind of smell (taste) alike.

So if you decide to get a French triple-creme cheese, you’re off to a good start looking at wines in that region.

Disclaimer here: Terroir as a pairing technique doesn’t work in every case. Keep your eyes open for my wine and cheese pairings for suggestions.