CULTIVATING FLAVOR: Farming and the Roots of Flavor

Flavorful ingredients form the foundation of great cooking. And much of the flavor of cultivated ingredients is determined by what happens on the farm. In the same way that every decision a cook makes—from ingredient selection to method of preparation, to gauging the ideal moment for serving—determines the quality of a dish, the flavor of produce, meat, and dairy will get either enhanced or diminished by each step a farmer takes in raising, harvesting, and handling crops and animals.


A farmer's choices regarding management of the land, selection of crop varieties and livestock breeds, and proximity to market are crucial determinants of flavor. Guiding those choices are a farmer's observational skills, experience, and knowledge of the farm, as are customer feedback and expectations. While no one agricultural system can guarantee better flavor, small-scale, ecologically managed, diversified farms that sell to local markets have certain significant flavor advantages over long-distance, industrialized agriculture.


In exploring the connection between farming practices and flavor, I've talked with many farmers about what they know—and what they believe—to be influencing flavor on the farm. When asked about the roots of flavor, ecologically minded farmers often begin with specific ideas about the factors that contribute to flavor quality. As the conversations continue, however, they keep adding to their lists of influences; and their lengthier lists of factors reflect the complex nature of flavor production.


On Flavor Notes—under the category Cultivating Flavor—I will be posting notes from my conversations with farmers. And I invite you to add—in the Comments section—your own observations and thoughts about flavor.


Gloucestershire Old SpotsRead more about farming and flavor on Flavor Notes.