It’s Tuesday morning. As is my habit on most mornings, I’m camped out at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying a cup of “bold” coffee with just a touch of half and half to take off a little bit of the edge.
Another customer has just come in and ordered an artisan breakfast sandwich—bacon, Parmesan frittata and aged Gouda cheese on an artisan roll.
Had she been so inclined, she could have instead ventured to a nearby Wendy’s and ordered an Artisan Egg Sandwich.
Before long, right next door to this Starbucks, a new Panera Bread location will open and offer “artisan fast food.”
And tonight, I don’t have to settle for just any old pizza; I can order an Artisan Pizza from… believe it or not… Domino’s.
Yes, the pizza you used to eat when you were down to your last few dollars between paychecks has gone upscale. In a manner of speaking, anyway.
The Domino’s definition of “artisan” includes using feta cheese instead of mozzarella or Parmesan on one of its new pizzas, and Tuscan salami instead of pepperoni on another. Woo-hoo!
Actually, I shouldn’t make fun of any company for attempting to improve the quality of its product. Domino’s, in fact, has made great strides in that regard, even in its standard line of pizzas.
But can a pizza really be considered “artisanal” when it’s being made at nearly 5,000 different locations?
John Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, doesn’t think so—but not for the reason I would have thought.
“I have no problems with the scale,” he told Tiffany Hsu of Tribune newspapers, “but it’s really hard to fake authenticity.”
In the restaurant business, “authenticity” typically involves using locally grown or made products—products that are fresh and often produced utilizing sustainable farming methods.
Adds Viertel: “Domino’s is diluting the meaning of the word.”
So what, precisely, is the meaning of “artisanal” in the food world? According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” compiled by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, it is this:
“The term implies that a food or beverage has been primarily handmade and produced in small batches by traditional, predominantly non-mechanical methods. Superior fresh, natural and local ingredients and attention to detail and excellence are all part of the artisan tradition. This results in products that resound of homemade goodness and quality. Among the many artisanal creations found in markets today are breads, cheeses, jams, oils, sausages and vinegars.”
That product list also includes, to a lesser degree, wine. I say “to a lesser degree” because the abuse of the term isn’t nearly so widespread in the wine industry. Because of that, and because it takes beyond-artisanal production levels to even get a particular bottling of wine into a supermarket, such misleading claims are rare.
Not that the wine industry doesn’t have its own list of potentially misleading terms. A few examples:
- Barrel Select
- Special Selection
These are terms that infer superior quality but, in actuality, have no specific meaning—either legally or in common practice. They require no specified methodology in the cellar, nor the use of fruit from superior microclimates. A winery is free to include such verbiage on its labels, but the verbiage really doesn’t mean anything.
In essence, those words are the wine world’s version of “artisanal.”
Is this to say that all “Reserve” or “Barrel Select” bottlings of wine should be considered suspect? Absolutely not. In fact, in my experience, abuses of verbiage on wine labels are few and far between.
All I’m suggesting is that if you happen to run across a bottle of “Barrel Select Reserve” White Zinfandel, don’t expect it to be equal in quality to a plain ol’ bottle of Mouton Rothschild.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go order an artisan breakfast sandwich before they run out. The aforementioned fellow Starbucks customer just walked by with hers, and it sure smelled good.
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