The Grass Beneath Your Feet

I have just returned home from Sicily where I spent time learning about the influence different soils and climates have on wine.  Planeta own vineyards in five distinctly different areas of Sicily and demonstrate a profound understanding of “terroir” as their website explains…  ‘It is a new way of thinking about the journey through Sicily; after Menfi, Vittoria, then Noto, then Etna, then Milazzo. Not a random route, but one strongly linked to the variety of countryside, to the winds, to the character of the people and thus of their wine…’  Diego Planeta

It is not only wine to which terroir applies, pretty much every food that is produced in Sicily has a village that is recognised as being the best, e.g. Bronte for pistachios, Pachino for tomatoes, Avola for almonds, to name just a few.

As we flew home I had fantastic views of Mount Etna, the Aeolian islands, Corsica, the French Alps and then finally, after we had crossed the channel, the richest green fields greeted me.  Here was what the UK grows best – grass.  It may not immediately strike you as food, but that is exactly what it will become, first for the sheep and cows that graze upon it, and then ultimately in their meat or the dairy products produced from their milk.  There is nothing like being away to make you appreciate home!  I couldn’t wait to eat my creamy yoghurt in the morning, to spread butter on my bread, and then cook some meat for dinner!

We of course usually take all this for granted, but in Sicily, not far off the coast of Africa, the heat is too great to produce beef.  They do have a native breed of cattle, the Modicana, a sturdy breed that can withstand the heat and rocky terrain.  There are however only around 1000 of these cows remaining on 14 farms in the Modica area.  Their milk is used to make Rugusano cheese.  Some veal is sold, usually beaten out very thinly, but if left to become beef it would be too tough for anything other than long slow cooking.

The quality of grass may not be something that you have ever really considered yet this is the main determinant of the quality of the meat or dairy we eat.  Next time you walk through a field, look closely and see how many different grasses and wild flowers you can count. A field that has only recently been ploughed and sown will have very few but permanent pasture may have hundreds.  This variety is good not only for the animals that graze it, as they can instinctively search out their own “medicine”, but it is also great for wildlife.  Follow Jonty Brunyee @ConygreeFarm on Twitter for examples of wild plants found throughout the year.

The Pasture Fed Livestock Association was formed in 2012 for those farmers who care about their pasture and who are committed to rearing their animals 100% from this means.  I have written about the benefits to human health from eating 100% pasture-fed meat before here.

Since they formed, I have been fortunate to attend several of their events such as tastings of meat from comparative pastures and farm visits. You can read about the hogget tasting here.  Having begun by looking at the importance of pasture for meat they have now begun to widen their remit to consider dairy.  As one top cheese producer once told me, “the only way to continue to improve my cheese is to grow better grass”.  The subject is an endlessly fascinating one in which we should all be showing an interest.  Pasture for Life will be featured on BBC’s Countryfile this Sunday and you can find out more from their website

No need to travel abroad to understand “terroir” it has been under our feet all along!

This entry was posted in April - Articles, Food Culture, Food Culture Articles. Bookmark the permalink.

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