In Germany, ‘altesorte’ are old varieties of cultivars, from apples to potatoes. In the Commonwealth, the term ‘heirloom’ can refer to antique objects as well as old breeds of pigs, corn, and carrots.
These “old” varieties were often abandoned in pursuit of commercial interests to ensure a more consistent, pest-resistant, better travelling, longer-shelf-life, product – or, in the case of pigs, lower fat. In our moment of history, commercial interests are being reduced in importance and quality is again elevated, with chefs collaborating with farmers to produce hybrids bred for flavor rather than industrial variables.
Often heirloom varieties have a better flavor, but were abandoned due to low plant yield, vulnerabilities, or fragility in transit. Now, improved transportation and a growing market for particularity encourage farmers to seek, grow, and bring to market these varieties – often gaining a distinct price increment.
In the world of wine, farmers examine their oldest vines in search of unnoticed “autochthonous vines” mostly abandoned and ignored as the vineyard was planted to standardization and reliability. Now these autochthonous vines in their diversity are being restored, a renaissance of flavor.