Then I remembered other instances of what I now realize were actually assertions of terroir. On a visit to Bordeaux some years ago, we were told that the lamb we had for dinner at the cru classe winery Cos d’Estournel was from the Pauillac area. “It’s naturally salty as the lambs graze on grass in the brackish estuary,” said our host Jean-Guillaume Prats. It was indeed salty but I’m still not sure whether it was due to nature or a clever chef’s light hand! It’s nice to think of it as a terroir factor, though, for it’s as believable a story as the one a Turkish journalist once told me about lamb from a particular region in his country. It tasted naturally of oregano, he said, as the animals grazed on the herb that grew aplenty amid the grassy meadows there! Similar lamb-terroir tales abound in restaurant menus around the world as each place tries to set its food apart from the guys next door. Terroir is the perfect differentiator to extract that extra buck from the diner!

Foreign chefs since time immemorial have persuaded hotels in India to import certain cheeses, butter, cream et cetera from specific regions in the world — usually their native country — insisting that they have certain characteristics that local versions don’t. Their terroir tactics have usually worked. Indian chefs on the other hand have never asserted the importance of terroir in our cuisine, and make do with ingredients regardless of where they are sourced from. So they and their skills have been taken lightly.

When some of them do dare to assert terroir— like London-based chef Sriram Aylur of Quilon restaurant who insists that he must have spices from specific places in Kerala — the world accepts his tack, albeit reluctantly. Indeed, Chef Heikkinnen struck a thoughtful chord in me too when he innocently queried whether we in India count terroir being at all important. I think not. Now that Darjeeling tea has got its GI tag, maybe we should all start thinking more deeply about terroir…..