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What is REALLY Artisan Food?
"Marketers are increasingly tossing the word into the name of food products because consumers assume "artisan" means the item is somehow made with love and expertise and individuality."
Will a machine experience love and passion making Tostitos "Artisan" Roasted Garlic and Black Bean Tortilla Chips? Or can you imagine the process making McDonald's "Artisan" Grilled Sandwich being comparable to the one behind The Real Dill's pickles? We don't think so.
Many of the big players nowadays have shamelessly jumped onto the "artisan" bandwagon as part of a marketing gimmick to appear less "mainstream". When Dominos made a rectangular pizza with non-standard ingredients, suddenly they are artisanal. When McDonalds use "healthier" ingredients, like 100% chicken breast (what else could it be...?), suddenly they are artisanal. Misuse of the word "artisan" is more than just a joke; it is an offense to the gals and guys out there who spend years, if not their lifetime, handcrafting their products.
So how does one determine whether or not a product is artisanal? The Hartman Group, a thought leader in the food industry, suggests asking yourself the following 3 key questions when passing judgment:
- Does a real person craft this product with care?
- Is it made by hand, in small batches or limited quantities using specialty ingredients?
- Does it reflect expertise, tradition, passion, a process?
The best way to answer these questions, Randy Bell of Michigan State University Extension has found, is to develop a relationship with the person who produces your food. Farmers' markets and community fairs like Artisanal LA are the perfect venues to ask vendors how they make their products.
At myPanier, we strive to recreate the same shopping experience for online consumers by sharing the stories of each producer. When we interview our food makers for our blog, we want readers to be able to put faces behind names. We ask them about their backgrounds, what makes their products unique, and how the words "artisanal", "small batch", "handcrafted" or "handmade" apply to what they do.
Artisan food reflects craftsmanship. True artisans will give each product the maximum amount of focus it deserves. They are not concerned with volume, as opposed to mass producers. Artisan food is not necessarily healthy food, nor is it gourmet food. However, real artisans are very meticulous in the selection of their ingredients, so they will often choose fresh, natural and locally sourced. As a result, the taste and quality, are not surprisingly, the byproducts of the care and effort they put in their products. In addition, artisan food is not limited to fancy wine and cheese from foreign countries. Common kitchen staples like oils and vinegars are just as "artisanal" as truffles. Pasta from your local New York neighborhood is just as "artisanal" as the ones made in Italy. The spectrum is broad, but the decision is yours!
Lastly, the biggest misconception that we want like address is that artisan food is expensive. We believe in being fair to both producers and consumers so our prices reflect our value. Each week, we also partner with artisans to make artisan food more affordable on our site. We hope that the next time you see a label with the words "artisan" or "artisanal" that you would be able to more equipped to distinguish between a marketing trick and the real deal!