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What does Artisan or Artisanal really mean for food items?

artisan food

The desire to know more about and be more connected to our food is on the rise all over the world. People want to know how their food was produced, where it was made, if it contains organic ingredients or not, if the ingredients are locally grown or harvested, if the methods are sustainable, and so much more. This is exactly what we, at Miz En Place, strive for as well! There has been a pretty drastic shift over the last few years from mass-produced items to artisan foods with more transparency on how they are made.

Artisan foods and drinks, as well as artisanal ingredients, come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. The most popular include (but are not limited to):

  • Alcohol – Including beer, wine, and other spirits.
  • Breads – Made by hand with traditional techniques. Grains and flours are all grown, harvested, and processed in traditional ways as well (no chemicals, pesticides, etc).
  • Cheese, Milk, and other Dairy – Made by hand with traditional techniques. Animals used for dairy production are raised in traditional ways (no hormones, no antibiotics, etc).
  • Coffee – Hand-roasted, small-batch, grown organically, and processed by hand.
  • Cured meat – Meats prepared (drying/curing/flavoring) with traditional techniques.
  • Drinks – Includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, made by hand with traditional techniques.
  • Ice cream and Gelato – Made by hand with traditional techniques.
  • Jams and Preserves – Made utilizing traditional methods of storing fruits or vegetables for long periods of time. The vegetables and fruits are grown and harvested in traditional ways as well (no chemicals, pesticides, etc).
  • Oil – Made by hand with traditional techniques.
  • Pickled Foods  – Made utilizing traditional methods of storing food for long periods of time. The items to be pickled are grown and harvested in traditional ways as well (no chemicals, pesticides, etc).
  • Pizza – These are ones typically cooked in wood-fired ovens and utilizing traditional pizza-making methods and artisanal toppings.
  • Vinegar – Made by hand with traditional techniques.

What makes a product “artisan?”

The word “artisan” simply means “made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.” Artisan products may also be labeled with words such as traditional, natural, farmhouse, or heritage. Keep in mind that all of those same terms have been co-opted by large corporations to make their offerings sound nicer than they are. Though some countries may classify artisan products differently from one another they will still usually meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Produced in small batches.
  • Made using traditional methods and tools (i.e. handmade).
  • Created from older traditional recipes without preservatives, colorants, sweeteners, or chemicals.
  • Made locally with easily traceable ingredients.

Is there a difference between artisan and artisanal?

Nope! Both terms are used interchangeably. The main difference between the two terms is in how the word is being used. For example, a person is an artisan (noun) and they can be described as being artisanal (verb) but an item, say bread, can be either artisan bread or artisanal bread. 

Why aren’t more products created as “artisan” products?

As we have said, artisans make their creations in small batches, by hand, utilizing local organic ingredients. Creating items in small batches is actually extremely challenging, particularly if you are trying to make a lot of the item to sell. Items produced in small batches are also typically more expensive to buy. Why? A few reasons:

  • A small artisan shop simply doesn’t buy much of any single ingredient at once (in contrast to the quantity that a mass-producer does) so they pay more for the ingredients in the first place.
  • More time is required to make the food items by hand.
  • More experience is required to make the food items by hand.
  • The end product is of higher quality than comparable mass-produced items.
  • The ingredients used are organic and sustainable.

All of which equals a higher price tag.

If an item is labeled “artisan” is it truly artisan?

The tricky part of figuring out what is an artisan food is that the term has become sort of a marketing buzzword that some companies or businesses use to make their products sound better than they are. Some also use the term to indicate one part of the process but not the entire process. For example, a restaurant may claim their dinner rolls are “artisan” since they have staff bakers who made the bread by hand using traditional methods. However, the ingredients used in the rolls were mass-produced and contain chemicals and other additives.

So, how can you be sure the “artisan” item you are buying is truly artisan?

Most artisan food businesses are small and do not have huge marketing budgets, so odds are extremely low that any typical household brand name that you can think of will be selling you artisan items. You will need to do a bit of research to find the right places to buy truly artisan food items. There are a few places online (like Miz En Place) where you can find true artisan items from small businesses from all over the world which you can get delivered straight to your door. If you want to see them in person try local farmer’s markets, small local bakeries, small local butcher shops, local food fairs, and festivals, and even local restaurants (inquire to see if they partner with local producers to stock their restaurant).

What are your thoughts on artisan foods? Do you go out of your way to find these gems? Let us know in the comments!

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