this is a photograph of an Iowa sorghum field

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A "terroir" is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.

from Terroir-France,
French Wine Guide website

"Terroir comes from an ongoing process of discovery, stewardship and passionate art."

Paul Gregutt, The Seattle Times "Food and Wine," March 01, 2006

Terroir is about the "unique characteristics (e.g. soil composition, geography, climate) which exist in combinations found only in [an] area. These can be be physical characteristics (such as soil acidity and mineral content), but may also be traditions (e.g. the tradition of producing a particular cheese in a particular way). . . . As each area has unique characteristics, the products traditionally produced in a given area are unique to that area."

from Terroir - Essence of
French Food and Wine


A designation, name, or title that refers to either an object, a place, or a product. With regard to wine labels, appellation refers to the place where the grapes are grown. Many appellations have official status, with either a government or trade bureau responsible to strictly delimit and regulate usage in order to assure both quality and authenticity. An appellation may be as large as an entire region, encompassing hundreds of thousands of acres and many separate vineyards, or as small as a single vineyard of perhaps four acres or less. Most of the best-known wines from France are appellation wines. Appellations are also used to identify most of the wines of Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal. Systems for officially identifying and regulating winegrowing regions are evolving in countries of the New World.

from Understanding Wine Labels (Part 2), APPELLATION LABELS, Professional Friends of Wine

For further information about "appellations" click here.

PDO - this label means that a food is produced, processed, and prepared using recognized methods.


PGI - this indication is less stringent and indicates that the geographical connection exists in at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation.


TSG this designation assures that a food’s “main ingredients, composition or preparation, production method or processing are essentially traditional.” TSG is not about geographical area of production


Amy Trubek, food anthropologist, Executive Director for Vermont Fresh Network, and Assistant Professor in Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, notes that place and quality as well as sustainable and artisanal production methods are critical; “food that tastes good . . . and that comes from known locales . . . [has a] taste of place.” Trubek cites the French Ministry of Agriculture as an exemplar for officially recognizing “agricultural producers who can demonstrate a tradition of small-scale production in a region that is distinctive in terms of flavor and quality other foods” (called the goûte du terroir For further information about Vermont artisan cheeses, click here.

"Iowa has a rich and diverse cultural food history that has been shaped by people and the ecology of our region.  Iowa place-based foods, with its strong links to agri-tourism and value-added product development, have a great potential to invigorate the economy, spirit, and pride of our rural communities."


Rich Pirog
 Associate Director,
The Leopold Center





Place-based foods  ::  Questions and Answers


What is place-based food?
Why have place-based certification marks?
How can I do my own food research?
Where can I buy place-based foods?

What is place-based food?

Place-based foods have a unique taste that often has to do with an ecological niche and/or the ethnic or regional heritage of their producers. These are the foods that we seek out to eat locally when we visit a particular place, purchase as souvenirs or gifts, or hunt down in specialty shops. Food is not just about sustenance ~ we want foods that have a story.

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Why have place-based certification marks

In 1992 the European Union established specific definitions for “geographical indications” or GIs, which focus on place of origin and qualities that derive from that place, e.g. climate and soil. The EU did this to protect products from misuse or imitation and to give consumers reliable product information.

Categorizing American foods in European terms is difficult, confusing, and possibly irrelevant, thanks to a lack of time depth for most American foods and because a different relationship with food has developed here than it has in Europe. Some foods are easy to declare place-based because they did originate here or have been grown here for decades (California wines) and are tied to specific ethnic or occupational groups, processing/production methods, and eating traditions (e.g. Minnesota wild rice, New England lobsters, Chesapeake blue crabs). But many foods are identified with either a specific origin or a particular heritage and not both. For example, a European PDO label means that a food comes from a specific, well-defined region, such as Champagne (the wine and the region) in France or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Parma and Reggio Emilia in Italy. A PDO designation also implies years, often centuries, of traditional heritage, both in terms of ethnicity or regional identity and artisanship.


Because geographic origin designations developed due to particular historic and economic conditions, heritage and artisanship are implied but not requirements of protected designation of origin (PDO) or geographical indication (PGI) criteria; they are part of the traditional specialty guaranteed (TSG) indication. These terms all have legal consequences and protections that differ from trademarks.

Trademarked American foods such as Vidalia® onions from 20-county region in Georgia and Idaho® potatoes are certified as grown in a particular locale or state. Both products claim that their taste is derived from their place of origin; heritage and artisanship are not relevant.

Yet the where as well as the how and the why become are substantive issues for growing and processing, especially given the ways in which definitions for appellation and terroir, both of which were once used to refer to wine exclusively, are being increasingly tossed around.

Authenticity is the underlying issue for all these efforts to designate and describe place-based food ~ though authenticity means different things for different groups. Is it really from a particular region and does it taste a certain way because of the soils, molds or bacteria, altitude, humidity, air or water quality of that region? Has a particular group prepared it in a certain way from time immemorial ~ or at least as long as anyone can remember? Did real people and not faceless machines create it? Is it uncontaminated by antibiotics, hormones, or GMOs?  Various combinations of these criteria combine to determine just how “place-based” a particular food is.

Most of the foods that Iowans and others identify with Iowa fall into four categories:

1). those that are grown here, are artisan processed or prepared, and have a heritage basis (pork tenderloins, Maasdam’s sorghum syrup, rhubarb and dandelion wines from the Amana Colonies, Meskwaki maple syrup, mettwurst, black walnuts, Muscatine melons, and pawpaws);

2). those that are artisan processed here and have a heritage basis that relates to Iowa (Dutch letters, lefse, kolaches, Swedish pancakes, kringla, aebleskivver, and other ethnic dishes);

3). those that are grown and artisan processed here but have no substantive heritage basis (several kinds of great salsa, cows’ milk and goat milk cheese from Cresco and the Goat Sisters, Java chickens and most other heritage poultry, emerging vineyards and wineries, a variety of delicious local organic and natural dairy products ~ some of which is from re-emerging micro-dairies, farmed fish from western Iowa); and 

4). those that are grown and processed here and that do have a heritage basis but are commercially produced (buffalo from northwest Iowa, Amana ® meats, pork tenderloins, Maidrite®, hybrid sweet corn, soy nuts, etc.) though sometimes prepared with artisan methods (pork tenderloin).


Please refer to the “Visual Overview for Iowa Place-based Foods” for ways to classify foods in terms of geographical, ecological and cultural factors.

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How can I do my own food research?


Finding place-based foods is pretty straightforward ~ just think about the dishes that remind you of a particular place or that bring back memories of home or childhood. That’s a good place to start. Make a list of the foods and the places you can find them. If your focus is on place-based foods as opposed to heritage foods that can be found in a variety of regions, make sure that the foods are grown and/or processed in a particular locale. Next step is to get out there and talk to the people who make or grow the foods, and tell your friends about them.

When I started this research, I already had some ideas about what might be Iowa place-based foods. I asked colleagues what they thought and revisited the topic with friends and contacts from a variety of Iowa ethnic groups known for particular food specialties. The Department of Cultural Affairs and the Leopold Center issued press releases about the project. I gave public presentations about this project ~ always asking for leads. Various newsletters around the state asked their membership to respond. And we posted some surveys on the DCA website. This all led to a variety of people contacting me with their ideas about Iowa foods. 

The flavors of Iowa derive from a variety of regional and ethnic traditions.  There are fish and shellfish supplied by the state’s rivers and lakes, the fruits, vegetables and meats supplied by our farms, and game from the flyways and woods. Iowans produce food for community suppers, cafés, homes, holidays, houses of worship, restaurants, farmers markets, fairs, festivals, and so on. Different groups that made Iowa their home over the years have each added their own distinct contribution to Iowa’s culinary heritage.

As a folklorist, I’m trained to interview people about their traditions, and I especially love asking people about their foods, from everyday to holiday. I asked about foods their parents and grandparents grew or prepared, and I asked for the stories behind those foods.

What really helps is not being afraid to ask what seem like stupid questions. Stupid questions often get you the best and most complete stories.

To get started yourself, look over the kinds of questions I asked in my surveys to collect information on place-based foods and recipes.   

For more information on how to do this kind of research.

American Folklife Center's Folklife & Fieldwork



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Where can I buy place-based foods?


Many Iowa grocers already carry Iowa food products. Ask your store manager where a particular item may be located. If your store does not carry the item you would like, request it.

Please see the following contact information for all food stories covered on this website. Click here for a pdf with this information.


Ackerman Winery
4406 220th Trail
Amana, IA 52203
f: 319.622.6513


Jaarsma Bakery

727 Franklin Street

Pella IA 50219


fax: 641.628.9148

e-mail for sales



Vander Ploeg Bakery

711 Franklin Street

Pella IA 50219


fax: 641.628.4772

e-mail for sales  



K&K Tiny but Mighty Popcorn

Gene Mealhow
3282 62nd Street

Shellsburg, IA




Maasdam Sorghum Mills
(sorghum syrup)

6495 E. 132nd St. S.

Lynnville, Iowa 50153

Fax: 641.594.4368




Maytag Dairy Farms

PO Box 806

Newton, IA  50208

f: 641.792.1567



Gary Schoening

204 Harolds Drive

Glenwood, IA 51534



Remsen Processing Center
230 S. Washington
Remsen, Iowa




Red Fern Farm

Tom Wahl
13882 "I" Avenue

Wapello, IA 52653




Suburban Restaurant

Suzy Lyons & Diane Cox
17029 Highway 69

5 Miles N. of Ames, IA
at the Gilbert corner



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