Definition: ar·ti·san /ˈärdəzən/ noun
A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
With so many options on the grocery store shelves these days, including artisan products popping up everywhere, have you ever paused to consider what an artisan producer is? What makes the artisan producer different from other food manufacturers? Essentially, it comes down to how they make their products, ranging from the recipes they use and the quantity produced to where they source their ingredients and how they use them. Artisan production takes us back to a simpler time when all food products were handmade. An artisan producer, commonly referred to as an ‘artisan’, would adopt some or all of the methods explained below.
Local produce – Artisans commonly use ingredients that are locally sourced. In Australia, we are fortunate to have rich, fertile soils and diverse climates that enable us to grow a wide variety of produce. This allows the local artisan fudge maker, for example, to use produce from the local lavender farmer in order to create a unique flavour not found in any other fudge.
Small batch production – Artisans usually make their products in relatively small batches. This can be due to the seasonal nature of the produce they are using and/or because their products are usually handmade. Small batch production is one of the reasons artisan products are so unique and delicious!
Age-old recipes – Some artisan producers spend years mastering their craft and recipes. They commonly combine the traditional recipes handed down through generations with modern techniques to produce their own recipe that has been tested and tweaked to perfection. Importantly, their recipes also contain no ‘nasties’, like preservatives, GMOs, chemicals or sweeteners.
Traditional methods – Some artisans require special equipment or processes to make their product. For example, fermentation is a method that facilitates a slow and natural process, allowing the artisan to wait for the perfect moment before completing the product. These flavours cannot be replicated using mass production methods. The fermentation process is used to create products like kombucha, sauerkraut and sourdough bread.
We often find artisan delights at our local baker, butcher, deli, markets or in a little countryside store. The artisan has worked hard to perfect their recipes so that we can enjoy their creations, made with love from locally sourced produce, such as jams bursting with flavour because the berries were picked at just the right moment from the local farm. Additional benefits of buying artisan products are the low food miles and sustainable methods used in production. This creates a healthy cycle, from the raw produce to the artisan product to the rich nutrients our bodies consume.
Due to the seasonality of fruit and vegetables, it is important to be aware that you may not be able to purchase your favourite artisan products all year-round. This is also true for certain artisan dairy products like cheese, due to the natural productive cycles of the animals from which the milk is sourced. Seasonality is one of the factors that makes artisan products so special. They are seriously worth waiting for!
So, next time you sit down to enjoy a cheese platter, a craft beer, fresh sourdough bread, a glass of wine, some relish, jam or cured meat, give some thought to its origin. How was it made? Where was it purchased? Can you buy it all year-round? The answers will lie in the taste. If it’s an artisan product, it will be an experience you’ll want to repeat often and share with others.