French for "soil," though in the culinary world terroir has an expanded meaning referring to a sense of place -- the contribution of environmental factors that affect the final product, such as wine or cheese. With wine, this can include reference to the type of soil (chalky, claylike, gravelly, sandy), as well as other factors, such as altitude, vineyard position relative to the sun, angle of incline and water drainage. With cheese, both pasturage and water are affected by the environment; milk from an animal that grazed in a salt-air climate will be different from that of an animal that's grazed in the mountains. Likewise, cheeses aged in a natural cave will be differently nuanced than those that have matured in manmade aging rooms. The word terroir is now also associated with other artisanal foods.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.