In a foreword to their company's publication The Taste of a Terroir', the chiefs of premium French dairy supplier Isigny Sainte-Mère enthuse: "Nature has been particularly generous to the Normandy heartland of Isigny and the region surrounding it. Here mankind, working in harmony with nature, has harnessed the many gifts of nature to establish an exceptional terroir."
Arcadian idylls aside, French companies like Isigny cracked on to the financial benefits of terroir ­ the notion that the qualities of a special geographical location, its air, the sea, the soil, the grass, infuse themselves into a product and give it special qualities ­ years ago. Meanwhile the continentals are getting ahead of the game, with victory for the Parma ham producers this week in their PDO battle with Asda over its use of the Parma name (see p53), and the Greeks having secured exclusive rights to feta'.
The question is: why haven't British companies, with a few exceptions, followed this route?
The Curry report identified the protection of regional heritage as crucial to the future of British quality produce, arguing that it defended premium goods against cheap bulk-manufactured imitations. It urged suppliers to adopt the EU certifications: PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), and CSC (Certificate of Specific Character). And DEFRA staff moved into a higher gear encouraging suppliers to go for it. But today, although the PGI for Welsh lamb is imminent, just 33 British products are certified. Only half a dozen are going through the certification process either at DEFRA or Brussels.
Dominic Patterson, head of DEFRA's regional and local foods branch, says he is perplexed by why British suppliers are not embracing the PDO/PGI concept. "We have contacted retailers and had meetings with trade associations, and there is real interest in the schemes. We don't do badly compared to parts of northern Europe. But France and Italy have taken more advantage of the schemes."
Patterson's staff try to understand what prevents uptake.One problem is that while the multiples are sourcing more locally, the pricing environment has never been more punishing for smaller regional suppliers. Another is that many consumers have lost contact with rural Britain.
But the biggest problem of all is that the Brits lack an understanding of the Appellation d'Origine Controllé values that gave birth to the certifications.
Chairman of the UK Cheese Guild Bob Farrand says: "I give 40-80 talks in a year on matters related to terroir and authenticity, but, when you mention terroir, people don't understand what is going on.
"It's a hard struggle to educate people about these things. These marks are terribly important to those in the industry who feel the whole concept of AOC and PDO and PGI is a lost opportunity in many ways to maintain credibility for what is produced regionally in the face of large scale retailing and downward price pressure."
British Cheese Board secretary Nigel White agrees that the British consumer is "not there yet" with terroir. "The British are drawn to heritage and tradition. But terroir goes much deeper, involving the ecosystem, sustainability, the flora and fauna. It's about far more than history and heritage or the emotional values of fields and cows.
"You can see the concept with Cheshire cheese, where the salt plains enrich the grass and provide the cheese with unique characteristics. But the terroir concept doesn't go that deep with UK consumers. It is a different psyche."
But a spokesman for Eurial Poitouraine, the producer of Soignon goats cheese, is optimistic about the UK consumer's appreciation of terroir, especially in the light of how the goats cheese sector is flourishing in British supermarkets."Maybe with its growing understanding of the terroir approach to French wine, the British market is developing an appreciation for how this applies to French goats cheese," he says.
"Goats cheeses produced in a certain way will reflect the history, culture and flavour of a specific area. In the same way that wines are categorised, the best cheeses are those that carry the taste and flavour of the terroir where they originated."
The area of production alone is not enough to achieve the AOC label. The premises must have been used to produce the same cheese for many years, with techniques handed down from one generation to another, he explains.
The Scots and Welsh have long been adept at marketing their meat by playing up its association with landscape. Scotch lamb and beef enjoy PGI status.
Yet even they feel that the French can teach them a thing or two. At Paris' Salon International de l'Agriculture this spring, Scottish and Welsh marketers said they were impressed by the way animals and their role in the food chain were celebrated in France. Consumers there are comfortable with meat coming from animals.
Quality Meat Scotland MD Alasdair Muir, says: "It would be desirable if we got consumers more interested in questions about the details of food production, such as why a product tastes the way it does.
"You see French consumers picking up the packs and studying them.
"And we with our Glen character have stressed that you are what you eat, and the take out from that has been very good."
Welsh Lamb & Beef Promotions has made green grass imagery central to its marketing. Promotions and marketing executive Michael Rees Thomas says he was struck at the Salon by how much comment the French had made about the Welsh beef PGI.
Rees Thomas says it is important to bear in mind that PGI status is a very new concept in Britain. But he believes the British will become more aware of terroir as UK suppliers go down the farm assurance route. Eventually, he predicts, "PGI will be a cornerstone of the Welsh industry. The Welsh are expert at turning grass into meat, and the grass is a powerful message. Success comes from simple things."