“All good farmers become connoisseurs of dirt and dust. We have progressed from trailing a horse-drawn plow and marching through mud to riding modern equipment that elevates us three or four feet above the ground. But no good farmer can escape contact with the earth, we feel it on our tongues and in our throats. Farm dust varies with soil types and regional cuisines. I don’t know how the Georgia red clay tastes, but I have visited the Wisconsin dairy lands and Washington’s Skagit Valley. Mixed with rains and lush growth, their dust is heavy and thick and has a richness, like a fattening dessert of chocolate. Dust from the San Joaquin Valley of California contains subtle nuances of flavor only the native may detect. The denser clays of the northern valley have a smell of river history mingled with them. The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers drain into this lowland area, centuries of topsoil collected from a valley three hundred miles long.” 

— Epitaph For A Peach, by David Mas Masumoto


Can you really taste a place? 

When * Robert Reynolds introduced me to Louis Marie reputed to make the best goat cheeses in France I discovered that it was possible to taste the pasture that the goats ate in the cheese made from their milk. My journey to explore the taste of place had begun. As a child I spent a lot of time on the farms of my family. I often remember those hot summer days spent playing in the fields or working in the garden. My grandfather and uncles were always tasting the soil, actually it was impossible not to. 

After making books so I could read the soil I wanted to now taste the dirt. While working on LandScape: the Farmer as Artist one of my collaborators Karen Salinger and I developed “Tasting Notes” for the soil of our friends. This was the vehicle to enter the conversation of Taste of Place and the frame for the soil tastings. 

This experience is just a metaphor, a small place to stop and pay attention for a few minutes to the food we eat and where it comes from. 

Bon Appétit ! 


Am I expected to eat dirt? 

No, you will smell the soil and taste the food grown in it. Through this experience you will taste the soil. 

What is a soil tasting? 
Soil, the medium of every farmer, makes up the palette that creates the distinction among growers. It differentiates between farms; between the family farm and agribusiness, sustainable practices and non-sustainable ones, the caretaker and the cavalier. The purpose of this installation is to ask two questions: How does soil touch our lives and affect our food; and why does it matter? Taste of Place is meant to stimulate public dialogue about food production. 

What do I do? 

1. smell the soil, develop impressions 
2. taste food grown in the same soil and reflect on each, exploring the relationships 

You will be served soils from the local farms. First the scent of the soil will be stimulated by adding a small amount of water and stirring to release the earth’s aromas as if from a fresh rain. Then you will smell, identify the scents you recognize, and note their properties. You will then be served food grown in the same soil you have just smelled. See if you can taste in the food the same properties you smelled in the soil. Please note your reactions and experiences. 


Tasting Notes 

T&D willey Farms – San Joaquin Valley Series 
This 2006 release of San Joaquin-Madera association is visually rich and dark showing flecks of mica from older alluvial fans and terraces. Subtle yet complex nose, grassy and vegetative. An underlying presence of cream opens up to hints of citrus and spice. Soft in the mouth with a fine sandy quality this soil is a keeper. Enjoy it now or put aside for up to 10 years. 

Philo Apple Farm – Flood Plain, Navarro River District. 
Unlike the Indian Camp Ground variety, flood plain has a yellow mustard color. It’s texture is hard and clod like. A bit less exotic in aroma, but more varietal, with olive and mineral notes, and a bit weightier finish. The nose here is clay and smoky with huge extract and extraordinary elegance. 

Apple Farm – Indian Camp Ground, “Arrowhead Reserve” 
Texture like ground espresso between your fingertips with a rich, chocolate color.The nose is both flinty and grassy with finesse and subtlety. Old growth region. reference notes: July 2001) 

Phil Foster Ranch – Santa Ana Valley, Clear Lake 
Clay Dense and hard with a rocky quality. It's color is opaque charcoal, almost black with a hint of purple. On the nose, there is a mild granite finish. Highly fertile. Deep root zone. A richer style than I usually prefer, but nicely rendered. Slightly awkward now but it should develop. 

Château Puech-méjà – France “Artist Collection” 
Texture like river bottom sediment, with a brown sugar color that sparkles like crystal. The nose is ancient, with a well structured finish. This fine French offering won’t last. Best consumed in 10-20 years. Visits to the Chateau by appointment only. No access by car. Walking tours only. 

Lagier Ranch – Veritas Fine Sandy Loam The texture is silky fine, pumice like. Its' color is light, like burnt almond. The nose is earthy with vegetal quality, like green chard and pine, built for the long haul with good supporting acidity. Hardpan finish. Suitable to serve with deep rooted crops.