The Artisan Bandwagon
The dictionary definition of Artisan is something made by hand and with skill using traditional methods, or a high-quality or distinctive product made in small quantities. It is a word or concept invoked often in food marketing, both subtly and overtly. With US behemoths like Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks and Wendy’s offering ‘artisan’ products, one has to wonder: has the term completely lost any trace of its original meaning in America?
In the UK, the terms artisan and handmade are widely appropriated on food packaging and in marketing, especially in the baking industry to describe factory produced food. We’ve all witnessed scenes of romantic country life goodness in bread advertisements and the allusion to foods being somehow lovingly handmade for us, by someone who really cares.
Rarely are such cases challenged, though the banning of Iceland’s clearly misleading advertisement depicting a traditional baker shaping loaves was a warning to big brands.
It remains understandably tricky to police the use of the word artisan and harder still the use of allusion and image.
In addition, language and its cultural associations evolve, quite literally, as we speak.
Artisan no longer particularly means contact with the human hand, which is more literally described by saying handmade. Where it once referred to traditional craftsmanship of objects by hand, in English speaking nations artisan now commonly describes the way food is produced, the care and attention given to the quality of the product and to its authenticity as a curated, non-industrial food.
At Seggiano we continuously discover new elements that define artisan food production, as research uncovers ways to improve product quality and taste. New knowledge can evolve us away from traditional practices and assumptions, though some food production traditions can’t be improved upon. As an example, the simple dough preparation, shaping and baking of our Lingue flatbreads is a tradition that remains unchanged, but contrary to tradition, our latest premium Tomato Passata is cooked in a temperature controlled vacuum to minimise heat stress and maintain antioxidants.
Provenance is a cornerstone; there is no place for commodity ingredients or anonymity of origin in something labelled as artisanal.
According to our ethos, artisan must also mean small scale, non-industrial, minimally processed and free of the chemical short cut additives used to speed up production or lengthen shelf life. Behind the images of bakers in white hats, does your biscuit, cake or pasta contain industrial emulsifiers, additives and binders? Have the ingredients been exposed to the high temperatures and oxidative stress common in industrial, high volume food production?
Artisan food producers have the skill and know-how today to make cakes and biscuits with a 6-month shelf life without using additives and our Ligurian basil-growing friends trumped the odds by creating an unpasteurised, raw basil pesto with an 18 month shelf life.
Time and physical process are key to achieving artisan quality. An artisan panettone takes 36 hours to make and a genuine chocolate nut spread is sieved and mixed for hours on end to blend the fats and liquids together, in lieu of quick fix added emulsifiers. This is real food. It costs more but delivers better nutrition and a considerably more enjoyable taste experience, whilst meeting the challenges of shelf life stability.
Most discerning shoppers in the UK are aware of the ‘artisan’ marketing hype. The more educated consumers become about nutrition, health and the key elements of delicious, clean food production, the more they shape the market through their buying choices. We would like to think of the Seggiano brand as a benchmark for quality, artisan food. Once consumers realise what motivates our product range choices and actually taste the food, we start to gain real brand appreciation and loyalty.
Italians love to shop for food when holidaying in Britain, and a favourite stop is Selfridge’s food hall. In Italy however, despite the national obsession with food, there is not a particular focus on artisanal products. Maybe this is because many available foods are produced in quite traditional ways. Every supermarket nowadays does have a shelf devoted to a best quality range, which at our local Co-op on Monte Amiata in Tuscany has some really good provenance products.
The usual hype and hyperbole in advertising is common, but you don’t often see artigianale used to describe industrial foods in Italy. One reason may be that, unlike most countries, Italy has an active agricultural and food fraud police force, which swoops on producers without warning to verify production records, ingredients and the correct and prescribed use of words on labels.
At Seggiano, our favourite artisanal products are our panettone range and our handmade flatbreads. The panettone are a feat of baking skill and are totally delicious and naturally made. Our Lingue flatbreads are light, crispy, thin and delicate – It would be impossible to make them industrially and they are by nature fragile. On the shelves, the nearest competitors look like thick inner soles.
We are also very proud of our Unbelievably Gluten Free Pasta and our Premium Tomato Passata – both are pedigree products that stand head and shoulders above the competition in terms of quality.
Then there’s our biscuit range, pestos and our flavoured oils…. The list goes on, as we only work with food makers committed to the true principles of artisan food.