Vocabulary Fun

Here is where you can learn about various food definitions and dining terminology. This page will be updated regularly, so check back often to feed your inner food nerd.

Bresaola: This Italian meat originated in northern Italy (Lombardy to be exact). It’s characterized by its dark red or purplish color and sweet, musky flavor. Bresaola is made through a drying process that happens over several months during which it is is air dried and salted, often herb encrusted.

Cerignola Olives: These Italian olives are immediately recognizable. They’re large, round, and light green in color. Their flesh is firm and sweet.

Chorizo: A spiced sausage. The Spanish version is dry and cured like pepperoni; the Mexican kind is loose, ground pork spiced with chili and garlic.

Cioppino: A fish stew inspired by Italian cooking, but originated in San Francisco. Characterized by a combination of many kinds of sea food (including clams or mussels in the shell) in a tomato and seafood broth with veggies.

Espuma: Simply put, espuma is flavored foam. It can take on any number of flavors, from the common to the surprising, through use of a specific culinary technique. The light and airy texture adds a subtle burst of flavor to any dish.

Fatback: A cut of meat from the back of the pig, which may or may not include the skin. This firm strip of fat is often used for salt pork and sausages.

Green Bacon: Cured, but not smoked, bacon—otherwise known as “fresh bacon.”

Guanciale: Unsmoked Italian bacon made from pork jowl, often considered by bacon aficionados to be the world’s best bacon.

Lardon: A thin strip or cube of pork fat made from salt-cured pork. It’s used for a variety of purposes in many different cuisines, although French cuisine is perhaps the most prominent. A lardon is, unsurprisingly, used in the larding process (see Larding).

Larding: Oh, yum. This is the process by which long strips of chilled pork fat are threaded into meat just before it is braised or roasted.

Membrillo: Otherwise known as quince paste, membrillo is a classic pairing with Spanish cheeses (particularly the salty Manchego, which opens up in combination with the sweet and slightly tart membrillo). It’s made very simply, generally with just the quince fruit, sugar, and water.

Mirepoix: This staple of French cooking is a mixture of carrots, celery, and onions—although there is some regional variation. If you’re doing some Cajun cooking, it’s called the “Holy Trinity.”

Nanobrewery: An even smaller version of a microbrewery. It’s a very small brewery operation that can be licensed, but some home breweries also fall under the auspices of the term. These small batch breweries typically produce four or fewer barrels of beer at any given time, which makes each beer a truly unique experience

Nuoc cham: A classic Vietnamese dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime, sugar, water, and fresh herbs.

Pancetta: Often called “Italian bacon,” pancetta is actually quite different from the typically smoked American version. It differs from region to region (and is made in Spain, too), but it is basically made from pork belly, which is then cured in salt and spices, then dried for a few months. At Söntés, we make our own pancetta in-house.

Pintxo: The term originates in northern Spain or Basque, where a pinxto is a small snack or treat of any kind eaten with friends in a bar setting.

Ramp: Yes, actually a food! The ramp, otherwise known as a wild leek, is a North American native in the wild onion family. Recently, the unique flavor of ramps has made them quite popular in restaurants across the country. Look for them at your local farmer’s market!

Saffron: One of the most expensive spices in the world! And for good reason: each small piece (“thread”) of saffron is a single stigma from a kind of crocus flower. Each flower has only three of these, and they’re harvested by hand. Wow. This amazing spice is recognized by its singular rich orange/yellow color and gently sweet aroma.

Tajine: This is both a dish and the item you prepare it in. A tajine is uniquely shaped earthenware pot (nowadays, some are cast iron) with a cone- or dome-shaped cover that allows the condensation to return to the dish. A tajine is also a slowly simmered meat dish mixed with vegetables or grains, kind of like a stew. The kinds of meat, vegetables, grains, and spices depend on the region, but you’ll often find rabbit, lamb, olives, apricots, and couscous.

Toast: No, not a slice of bread heated until it’s crispy! Well, okay, that too, but what we’re talking about here is the level of flavor imparted to wine when using a barrel that has been held over a large flame. Barrels can have low, medium, medium-high, high, and high-high levels of toast.

Trofiette: A short, hand-rolled pasta noodle, traditionally served with pesto, which is a specialty of Liguria, Italy.

Vineyard Blocks: These divisions within a vineyard’s growing area are often based on soil type, but could also be related to elevation or other factors. Sub-blocks within the main blocks can contain different grape varietals or vine clones of a single varietal. Grapes from one vineyard block can differ dramatically from those grown in a different block on the other side of the vineyard, even if the grapes are of the same varietal. Winemakers use these subtleties to create the masterpieces of their vineyards!

Yuzu: This East Asian citrus (which tastes a bit like a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit) is often used in Japanese and Korean cuisine. It’s not often eaten as a fruit, but its juice and rind give a unique flavor to any dish. It can be used to make both vinegar and wine, is a common ingredient in Japanese ponzu sauce, and can be made into a kind of marmalade.

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