Terroir and Crops by Chef Sandeep Pande
The word terroir is defined as the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop's phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices, and a crop's specific growth habitat.The reason why I am talking about something as basic as Terroir is because this is where the food comes from, this is where the life begins, this is the origin of all things great, and this is what shapes a Chef’s journey in kitchens all over the world.
We chefs, foodies, blog creators, hospitality Demigods and Divas in our race to satisfy, excel and top, forget the basics. Basics as simple as crops, terroir, its manifestations and practices that influence crops, take a back seat. Crops, be it Olive trees from the replanted grafts in Avignon or Provence, the grass that is fed to cattle in Midlands in the UK to get the world’s best-clotted cream or simply the Silver Tea leaves in Matara, all these crops are transformed and their “destiny” is shaped by the effect of weather, farming practices and the habitat itself.
I will be briefly touching on two important crops that make up Terroir that Sri Lanka is.
Coconut as a crop in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lankan context, coconut almost commands an industry status. There is a special ministry to propagate the crop, simplify its exporting process, and ensure it is truly perceived as the King of cash crops.
Coconut and Terroir are closely linked. The type of soil influences the variety and cultivation areas for coconuts. Case in point is the fact that coconuts require a soil that is self-draining, moist and not too dense. This is best exploited by adding coconut husk to the soil. The husk even at times is burnt and its ashes are added to increase the chemical worth of the soil. This results in better yields and finer product.
Terroir is not always serious and boring. In Southern Sri Lanka where the temperatures are right for coconut plantation, a farming practice of gathering Toddy from the coconut palms has given rise to the centuries-old custom of Ra. Ra is an intoxicating brew, a favourite down south. The custom of gathering around a pot of well harnessed Toddy and consuming the liquor in a seasoned coconut shells to the sounds of whalebone horns and buffalo hide drums, is a best-loved evening pastime.
Tea, the Silver White Mystique
Now, I will take you through one of the wonders of the Terroir, Tea. Tea crop is heavily dependent upon a myriad of external conditions, altitude, and farming practices. This stretches from arcane to intrinsically modern habitat and original tea grafts.
The Tea that I am talking about is the Virgin Silver or Gold tip leaf tea from Matara. Matara is one of the oldest Portuguese influenced areas and is in close proximity to Galle, the erstwhile Portuguese deep sea port.
Matara is a strange mix of altitude. It is at a high elevation, however quite close to the sea coast. Yes, it does rain and the area is also blessed with enough and more of leisurely sea breeze. The soil is fertile and yet a strange mix of sand and alluvial red. All these combine together in a unique way and produce a very distinct blend that is prized for being white, subtle and a Tea that is very unlike Tea. Terroir again throwing up produce and crops that not only mystify but strangely cost up to 200 times more and well, why not. This terroir is special and so is the Tea.
This brings me to the conclusion of this episode of The Chef’s Post. An episode that aims to bring back the “Vocal in the Local” and ensures that Terroir, where it all starts, is where it all starts.
Till next time, Au revoir, or is it Au Terroir!