Artisanal Is The New Organic

There’s a burgeoning artisanal market in the U.S., where goods made by hand or in small batches–and marketed with lots of footnotes and descriptions of quality–are growing increasingly more popular. But why, and is it just a hipster lifestyle ingredient or an actual shift in the larger population?

Adam Sachs in Details looks at the phenomenon and suggests the growing interest in artisanal goods is partly a response to economic uncertainty: “When everything is falling apart, it helps to know how to put things together.” It may also be that hand-made represents a sort of “anti-bling” that, because of current attitudes toward wealth and spending, conveys higher value. And a trend watcher Sachs speaks with suggests that we’re looking for a way to return a sense of human scale to the world, after the double-punches of the industrial and digital revolutions.

Finally, he notes that sometimes it also just simply delivers higher quality: better tasting food, more attention to detail, fewer lab-created chemical substitutes.

Sachs raises the question of what happens next as corporations wise up to the market-appeal of the artisanal label, but he doesn’t really explore that world too much.

Instead, he focuses on a dozen examples of great places to buy expensive things (this is Details, after all), which highlights the other consistent characteristic of artisanal stuff: it usually costs more. And maybe that’s the true allure of the artisanal for many–that just like luxury brands, what you’re really enjoying is the sense of exclusivity it can convey.

“Artisanal America” [Details]


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Whatever. If it tastes good, I’m willing to pay for the extra price of Artisanal or organic. I don’t really care about the story or the ethics of buying organic ,but I care about the taste.

    • rrayda says:

      Thing is, the flavor of organic vs traditionally grown foods is indistinguishable. Don’t buy organic because it tastes better, because it doesn’t. The health benefits may be there, so buy it for that if you feel like spending the extra money. Organic is simply a label granted by the USDA for utilsing certain farming practices, not to be confused with quality or flavor.

      Now artisinal, that’s different and not governed by any sort of regulations. It may well taste better because it’s handmade and creative, maybe… this case, it all depends on the artisan.

      • DanRydell says:

        People can always taste the difference when they know what they’re eating. They never do blind taste tests.

      • Doncosmic says:

        Certain vegetables do taste better when grown organic, because organic fertilizers contain often contain trace nutrients that chemical fertilizers do not.

      • tasselhoff76 says:

        I have friends that notice a huge difference when I use organic instead on non-organic. Not sure why.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        I think what you’re looking for is “home grown.” A tomato grown in the back yard and ripened on the vine is a lot tastier than one that was picked green on a factory farm 3000 miles away and ripened in the back of a truck. Same goes for most “fresh” produce. You should taste my potatoes. They’ll be ready in a few weeks.

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        I strongly disagree. Try an organic gala apple and a regular one. The organic one will be jucier and have a much better texture, especially the skin, as it hasn’t been treated with wax and who knows what else.

  2. Alvis says:

    Except “artisinal” actually means something, whereas “organic” has lost all meaning after being hijacked to mean everything from pesticide-free to hormone-free to who knows what.

    • ilovemom says:

      Give the corporations a little time. ‘Organic’ did have meaning before they realized it was an easy way to charge more and made it meaningless through the help of their government.

      • ARP says:

        More the inaction of the government. The previous president failed to enforce organic law regulations and essentially allowed anything to be labeled as organic and didn’t verify it. Obama has done little to reign that in. You need is a government that is willing to enforce regulations in order for it to have meaning.


        • Buckus says:

          The previous President’s policy was to only enforce enough laws to prevent anarchy.

          • TouchMyMonkey says:

            Really? I thought the previous President’s policy was to start unnecessary wars and raise the “threat level” when required to keep the public frightened like little bunnies.

            • craptastico says:

              you ought to know that all the Dems in Congress also voted to go to war. like it or not, you can’t pin it just on Bush

        • craptastico says:

          the PResident really ought to have more important things to worry about. besides, anything with a carbon atom is technically organic

          • AnthonyC says:

            “anything with a carbon atom is technically organic”

            I used to say that, but now I know better. The chemical and agricultural uses of the word “organic” both arose around the same time in the 19th century, since both referred to compounds/methods that come from life. It was only later that we started doing chemistry with fossil (or otherwise synthetic) hydrocarbons, and making substances not found anywhere in living systems. I see no reason why one use of the term should have greater validity than the other.

            • craptastico says:

              good point. i guess when i decide which meaning has more validity i’m more likely to side with a scientific meaning than a marketing one.

    • inniskillin says:

      “Artisinal” doesn’t actually mean anything either. On the other hand, “artisanal” does have a meaning, for now. However, more and more, it’s creeping into pre-printed large-scale consumer packaging, and can continue to do so since it’s not a term regulated under the law.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Safeway sells “Artisan” breads but I really doubt these are high-quality, handmade breads worthy of the dictionary definition of Artisan.

    • tasselhoff76 says:

      I don’t think that’s entirely true. There is a law as to what is organic.

      “[U]nder federal law, any product with “organic” anywhere on its packaging or display materials must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. To qualify as organic, those ingredients can’t contain, or be produced with, any of the following: chemical, additives, synthetics, pesticides, or genetically engineered substances.”

      Now whether that law is always interpreted and enforced correctly is an entirely different matter.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Artisinal cheese is delicious, but extremely expensive. $15 for a pound of camembert is a little rich for my blood, but I’ll gladly plunk down a smaller amount for cheese. It’s one of the greatest foods in the universe.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I have one artisinal cheese I treat myself to about once a month. I pair it with a small batch summer sausage and water crackers and make the one chunk into two meals (usually lunch.) I usually get 1/2 lb for about $8.00. If you make it a treat and make a big deal out of eating it, it’s totally worth the money.

      Good cheese makes the world go round (although you can’t beat a grilled cheese with a slice or two of American cheese.)

    • PunditGuy says:

      The camembert? I… think it’s a bit runnier than you’ll like it, sir.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      I love cheese, and will gladly spend too much money on it.
      I even feel bad about my gratuitous cheese purchases, I hide them deep in the fridge and eat them in secret.

  4. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Where’s the angry organics guy? I am on the edge of my seat to see what he has to say about artisinals…

    • chaesar says:

      Maybe I can fill in.

      Artisinal is just a new way for snotty people to feel special when buying food, since every crappy chain supermarket now carries organics

      Does that work?

  5. suez says:

    In a world… (cue music)… where all food is manufactured by a handful of conglomerate factories half a world away, and when one instance of a bacteria outbreak can contaminate the entire country’s supply of an ingredient or product, I’m all for going back to the basics and keeping things local and simple.

  6. SaltWater says:

    This is such BS. It began with bread. All of a sudden a loaf of bread that doesn’t look like the standard sandwich loaf is a artisinal.

    • says:

      Same with Organic or anything else. If someone realizes that you can make more money by calling something by a specific name they will use it to promote their product. As most people don’t know what the word truly meant in the first place but do like the image of it, they succeed.

  7. El-Brucio says:

    I think it might also be another example of the growing trend for people to buy local when they can.

  8. mythago says:

    Artisinal is not “new” anything. Artisanal beer, bread, cheese, etc. existed and was thriving (yes, and was called “artisanal”) way, way before the New Depression. It wasn’t that long ago that people were theorizing it was actually a result of prosperity and yuppies having way too much money so they were willing to spend $50 for a pound of cheese.

    This is what you get for relying on Details as a news source.

  9. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    The only problem with this is that inevitably, some semi-literate person at the store sees a loaf of artisan bread or some artisan cheese and says to his or her significant other, “Oh look honey. Do you want to try this artesian bread?

    Gahh!!!! It’s not a well you moron!!! I should be allowed to club that person with a pair of Crocs.

    • baquwards says:

      Holy crap! I work in a grocery store and even management pronounces it that way, it drives me nuts! I have tried to educate them, but to no avail. Now they call it “the bread in the green bag”. I can deal with that a bit better.

    • spanky says:

      Are you mad about an imaginary scenario you just made up in which an imaginary person mispronounces a word while talking to another imaginary person?

      Because, yeah, you should beat up that one person.

    • penuspenuspenus says:

      Could be worse. They could be reading “artisanal” as artis-anal.

  10. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    Some of the artisinal stuff is also more interesting/unique in flavors; a cheese dude who comes to our farmer’s market makes this fanTAStic white cheddar/cranberry cheese. That doesn’t seem to be a flavor combo that has enough appeal to end up in the cheese section at a supermarket. Artisinal breads often have that nutty flavor that’s so good, and different textures.

    I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay for “artisinal version of some normal thing,” but for a unique flavor? Definitely!

    • cabjf says:

      Artisan cheese has it’s own section at Wegmans. They have an Olde World Cheese counter with lots of artisan and imported cheeses. Including some of my favorites from Yancy’s Fancy, like Strawberry Chardonnay or Buffalo Blues Cheddar.

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        Yeah, we don’t have an artisinal cheese supermarket. Although we do have an artisinal olive bar at one!

  11. backinpgh says:


  12. TheMonkeyKing says:

    Unfortunately, the economy of scale does not match up to expectations of those who plan on getting rich with these projects. Our Farmer’s Market is too expensive and yet there is a snobbery by the trendy or hipsters to buy into it. So while I try to be local, it is not economical.

    $4 a pound for tomatoes and $15 for cheese and $6 for lettuce is way too expensive. Also, we are home to that bastard company Crumb, who tries to charge $8 for a cupcake. (Google it.)

    My way around this mess is to barter or haggle for better deals or simply make it myself. I make my own yogurts, smoke fish and meats I get at the store and grow my own vegetables. I know some things are hard to do for apartment or inner city dwellers but at least you can learn to do some things yourself.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      “Our Farmer’s Market is too expensive and yet there is a snobbery by the trendy or hipsters to buy into it. So while I try to be local, it is not economical.”

      Same here.

      • TheMonkeyKing says:

        Maybe you can answer this: do you know why they (hipsters/scenesters) buy such expensive things yet turn around and drink PBR in a can at the bars and rock shows?

        • PunditGuy says:


        • says:

          Because it’s more “Real”? It’s all about image. PBR managed to get this image of “blue collar, hard working, beer swilling” brand, so if all you do is tap away on your Macbook Pro all day long without a feeling of accomplishment in the end you can at least try to get the feeling that you’re “real”.

          Same goes with the Farmers market etc. Most don’t go there because they feel a sense of community or really understand where their food is coming from, they just “understand” that it is REAL food like those people who drank PBR in the 70s ate, before everybody had a microwave and nuked their dinner.

          Or at least that’s how they imagine it.

      • Etoiles says:

        Same problem around here, too.

        Back in NYC there were so very many farmer’s markets and street fairs that as long as I wasn’t at Union Square on a Saturday morning, I could usually do pretty well. Around here it’s very much a yuppie’s farmer’s market. Although on rare occasion the cinnamon bread from the overpriced baker is worth it.

    • nbs2 says:

      If I may ask, where on earth do you live? I get my farmers market lettuce for $2/head (cheaper than the megamart). I don’t know about the tomatoes or cheese because one is the devil fruit and the other I can only handle in small quantities.

      • baquwards says:

        I am guessing durham/chapel hill NC area. The state farmers market in Raleigh is considered the farmer’s market for the unwashed masses, by the local hipsteridiots. They would rather drive 25 miles west, to maintain their image.

    • AnthonyC says:

      There are other farmer’s markets.

      Some are focused on the expoensive (but often really, really good) stuff.
      Others are both extremely fresh and ridiculously cheap. A few weeks ago I found a 20 pound box of peaches for $5, $2 watermelons, and $0.50 avocados.

    • lockdog says:

      The farmer’s market a few blocks from my home suffers from the same problem (although the tomatoes only approach $3-$4 / pound in the very early or very late season). I can avoid the surcharge by shopping at the farmer’s markets in the surrounding rural counties where it seems I get the “country folk” price. But generally I find that if I patronize the same stands week in and week out I build up a relationship with the farmers and you would be surprised how often an extra zucchini or two (or three, or four) get into the bag. Also, if you need quantity, order in advance. I can get heirloom tomatoes for $2 / lb any Sunday morning, but if I tell them I’m needing twenty or so pounds to can next week and I’ll be picking them up early, I usually pay about $15 for the box.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      Fuck those morons at Crumb.

      Which farmer’s market do you have that’s so expensive? We go to the one in Carrboro sometimes and if we shop smart we can come home with a week’s worth of fresh, local, interesting vegetables for about $10. Add in some of Chapel Hill Creamery’s crackalicious cheese, though, and the dollar amount does rise — but their Calavander. . .oh my god.

      • TheMonkeyKing says:

        I’ve become friends with the farmers there and get better deals (like tomatoes for sauce, $1/pound). Of course, one should be on first name basis with people in their community if possible and not treat it like a faceless supermarket.

        But yes, I make a Saturday run to Weaver Street Market when I can and get much cheaper fare. I’ll have to try the Carborro market, maybe this Saturday. Thanks!

  13. Zowzers says:

    I drink “artisinal”…

    Support your local brewery!

  14. Bativac says:

    I think calling is “artisinal” is just the trendy new way of saying “homemade” or “independently made.” Marketers are quick to jump on anything that sounds trendy.

    I prefer independently produced stuff like cheese and bread because it generally has a much better flavor than mass-produced products. It is almost always more expensive, but it’s just me and my wife. We can afford to splurge for cheese a couple times a month (my monthly cheese budget, and it is a part of the budget, is $60).

  15. Buckus says:

    It tastes better because you’re paying more for it. But as Homer Simpson famously discovered, the food rots on it’s way down the checkout belt.

  16. NarcolepticGirl says:

    I don’t know about better tasting.

    There have been several times where I decided to shell out the money for artisanal products only to taste it once or twice before it ends up in the back of the fridge or cabinet. This includes various apple butters, jelly, cheese, breads (i had one that was good – the rest were very dense and hard. no thanks), jerky, etc.

    So I stopped wasting my money on these things. Best bet for people like this, would to always have samples out (which I’m beginning to see more of), because there might be a lot of people like myself – not willing to spend so much money on a jar of something we’re not familiar with.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Well, to be fair, it’s probable that the items you chose just didn’t taste good. There’s no blanket rule that everything artisanal must taste great. Some people are just bad at making foods, no matter how you slice it. Many shops and farmers markets offer samples. Try it first, then buy.

    • says:

      One thing that many forget, the “great” thing about industrial food production is that the goal in the end is a consistant product. So it doesn’t matter if you buy todays production run or tomorrow, they WILL make sure they are within narrow tolerances of each other.

      Meanwhile, the hand made stuff will have fluctuations and will not always taste the same, even if you buy it from the same guy. Small, handmade operations have just much more fluctuation.

      To offset this it helps if you know for example when the main ingridient is actually fresh or “best” taste wise, it requires some knowledge from the consumer.

      We have literally done away with seasons in todays eating environment, where I can buy fresh tomatoes or strawberries in the middle of winter. I am old enough to remember when that wasn’t the case and it hasn’t been THAT long ago.

  17. Mecharine says:

    If its not made in a mud kiln, it aint artisinal.

  18. brinks says:

    Dominos subs are on “artisan” bread. Did they get the terminology wrong, or are they just trying to fool those of us that are less sophisticated and had no idea what “artisan/artisinal” meant until this article?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      It’s marketing. Everyone knows that artisanal is the newfangled trendy thing, and while there are artisanal things that really do fit the bill, whatever you get from the grocery store or a chain restaurant is pretty much NOT artisanal.

  19. mommiest says:

    I don’t think it’s economic uncertainty or an “anti-bling” mentality that’s bringing this about. the fact is, we went through an era in which we trusted mass-produced food more than hand-made because we were convinced that a factory could control quality, nutrition, etc. better. That’s why my mother was convinced to feed me formula as a baby. Take a look at some of the advertising from the 50s and 60s. We believed in the new science, and small-batch foods fell out of favor.

    Now the trend is reversing, and the more we find out how good some of this “artisanal” food is, the more we want it, the more will be produced. I think the real trend here is that we are more likely to trust our own experiences and less likely to believe ad copy.

    I lived in France for a couple of years. The hundreds of local cheeses are considered part of their history and culture, so artisanal cheese is not a new discovery over there. There is mass-produced stuff, but the French just recognize it for what it is. They have both, and buy whichever meets their needs at any given time. The advantage they have is one of accessibility; they don’t have to go through so much trouble to find small-batch foods. I hope we get to that point eventually.

  20. baquwards says:

    We already have Sargento “artisan blend” cheese, shredded and in a bag, we also have mass produced artisan crackers. I think that the giant food producers have already caught on.

  21. says:

    I think it is the simple attempt to try and find something “real” in this day and age.

    For one, we have an economic uncertainty, so the idea to connect to something solid will probably only grow.

    Then there is the general sense I noticed around a lot of people trying to find the “real” thing. Of course this is nonsense, one wheel of cheese is just as real as the next, but with people searching for things they sort of become obsessed.

    I also think that the hipster movement by and large is born out of this desire to “get real”, mainly because most of them are the first generation that grew up “fully digital” if you want. People in their early 20s may still remember CDs, but I doubt they have a lot of them, plus they are just as digital as their MP3s, so a lot of them go straight for Vinyl for example.

    Most digital cameras are light and plasticy, so a (for most impractical) film camera is the answer, even though they hardly shoot it etc.

    I think this will be interesting to see, if really everybody would go the artisan route (much like the farmers market / organic movement) will require people to do with less, unless someone comes in and figures out how to industrialize “artisan” and you can bet there are already marketing people trying to figure that one out.

  22. oldtaku says:

    And of course you can just slap the term on anything. AFAIK there’s not even as little regulation as there is with ‘organic’ so all the chains love it and the word is already meaningless. I don’t think there’s anything on the menu at Macaroni Grill that they don’t refer to as ‘artisinal’ and there’s already plenty of mass processed crap with that slapped on it at the grocery store.

  23. grebby says:

    Artesians? Aren’t they the little folk who make Olympia beer?

  24. grebby says:

    Artesians? Aren’t they the little folk who make Olympia beer?

  25. outis says:

    Of all the articles to lack an “I make my own at home” thread….

  26. tungstencoil says:

    “When everything is falling apart, it helps to know how to put things together.”

    How does that even make sense in the context of why artisinal things are faddish (I’m being critical of the quote itself)? Fads happen because that’s how society is.

  27. RomeoCharlie says:

    For everyone who completely missed the joke, “artisinal” is NOT a word. “Artisanal” is in fact a real word. Therefore, “artisinal” does not mean anything, in a real, practical sense and in the metaphysical sense.

  28. dwasifar says:

    What egregious false advertising.

    I know Art personally, and he’s not anal at all.

  29. serke says:

    I’m pretty sure that “artisan bread” is the fancy way of saying “the crust is all rough and crispy”.

    I hate consumer trends. Something is new, then it’s strange, then it’s cool, then it’s trendy, then it’s passe. Meanwhile a whole set of folks disparage it.

    At my job, this means that 1/4 of the folks eat organic/vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/whatever and an equal amount of folks sneer at them behind their back. Just another thing besides sex, religion, and politics that causes grief at work.

  30. Conformist138 says:

    So, in order to convey a sense of smaller-scale humanity and to show the difficulties of a bad economy… people pay a lot more? Must be nice to have the money.

    I still manage to get a lot of my food from local sources, even if they’re not organic or artisan (two words with little real-world meaning). My cheese is always Tillamook, so I know it only came from about 2 hours away; toured the place a few times. Most of the meat I buy is also from in-state. I never buy honey from anywhere but Oregon (good for allergies, but gotta have local pollens). The one thing I cannot justify is spending money I don’t have on a label that rarely means much of anything.

  31. aweirdguy says:

    I was in Quiznos recently and their wallpaper is covered with advertising words describing their products. I saw “artisan bread” and asked the sandwich chef what it meant. She had no idea, and had never heard the term. I used my phone to google the definition, and when I told her it meant “made by hand” she laughed and said they get it by the truckload and there was no chance the factory for the national chain made all the bread by hand….

    Obviously the term now means “Pay more and believe it’s better” just like organic.