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Stories of Terroir

MA 2023
Culture, Preservation, Gastronomy, Tourism, Food, Croatia

Inspired by a passion for travel and eating, I was captivated by how we might reimagine the future of tourism for those that love learning about traditional food and culture. From a broader lens, I was interested in understanding how gastronomy influences people from different cultures to feel about each other and their respective countries. And how small nations could use gastrodiplomacy, a soft power tactic, to inspire respect and admiration in the international community.

This project studied often neglected rural farm communities in high-traffic tourist destinations and posited connecting them with travellers that would appreciate their unique practice. Focusing on the Croatian hinterland as a case study, I found a rich history of cultural traditions related to food and drink, many of which are at risk of disappearing.  At the same time, a growing market of gastro-tourists gave hope for a new wave of interest in these regions. An intimate exploration of these lands and people gave me the insight and inspiration to develop my final proposal:  Preserves, a platform for gastronomy lovers to organically share stories of terroir and support independent family farmers.

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WHY Does this MATTER?

All over the world traditions of food and craft are at risk of disappearing due to the pace, demands, and opportunities of modern life. But it's these practices that drive the cultural tourism industry and are foundational to national identity.

Governing bodies that invest in strategies to export their culture and influence the global community may have a better chance of fostering and instilling healthy cultural identity among their citizens and boosting the economic well-being of their nations. Likewise, key stakeholders in the tourism sector depend on strong cultural appeal. This strategy is known as "soft power"; the political approach of positively impacting public perception through sharing stories of lifestyle, history, heritage and values. This contrasts with typical "hard power" strategies that rely on force; employing the usual weapons of military might or economic coercion.

Why Croatia?

On the first of January 2023 Croatia became the 20th country to join the eurozone. The kuna, the local currency, has been replaced by the euro. There is expectation of an increase in European tourists following this change, and it is an indication of the country's commitment to becoming a part of the broader global community. But this anticipated increase in tourism is not necessarily welcome, as Croatia is a prime example of the damaging effects of a seasonal tourist-based economy. The coast's natural beauty and captivating history attract millions of tourists each year and bring billions of euros into the economy. But outside the tourism industry, there is little economic mobility for native Croatians, and with newfound citizenship to the European Union, billions are leaving in search of better job opportunities. The result is an unhealthy economic gap between coastal locations and rural regions, where 42.5% of the local population resides.

Rural Croatia encompasses...

  • 63% of Croatia's land
  • 1.7 million people 
  • 134,000 farms

Without a familiarity of local geography and language, travellers in their limited time default to popular tourist destinations, bypassing the unique specialities of lesser-known regions and ultimately landing them in concentrated pockets of over-tourism where authentic gastronomy gets lost in the noise. Pictured below is a classic example of over-tourism; Cruise ships drop 800,000 passengers a year to wander through Dubrovnik's Old City, where only 1,000 people live. 


To explore my subject I travelled to rural Croatia where I spent several weeks conducting ethnographic research, meeting with experts, visiting family farms, and various agritourism sites. By illustrating different solutions and presenting them to various stakeholders, I received feedback that would inform my final proposal. I found that Croatia's hinterland enjoys a rich culture of locally cultivated food and drink, but little recognized value in the global community and high rates of poverty. Due to the pitfalls of turbulent political history, I saw that the way of life for a Croatian family farmer is at risk of disappearing and with it generations of cultural practices.

There is a belief amongst farmers that these are sacred lands, and they expressed a dedication to safeguarding their perfected traditions. It is established that one man's cow, raised on his land, grazing on his hill is not the same as another farmer's a few miles away. The milk, meat and cheese we yield from each cow are going to taste different. And naturally, each farmer believes his products are better. There is a word that describes this belief that typically is only used in winemaking, terroir.

What is 'Terroir'?

(/tɛˈrwɑːr/, French: [tɛʁwaʁ]; from terre, "land")

French term used to describe the various factors that contribute to the taste of a crop, including unique environment contexts, the crop's specific growth habitat, as well as the farming practices of the grower. Farmers committed to their practice believe that the taste and quality of their products cannot be replicated in any other place by any other person, it is their terroir that has unique value.

These rural communities lack the support needed to preserve and share their unique terroir products with the world.


Connect rural family farms with people who truly appreciate the care and tradition put into their cultural food and drink.


My approach was to talk directly to as many stakeholders as possible,  I can pool them into 3 main archetypes:

  • Gastro-explorer: Intent on discovering the “hidden games”, they will spend their tourist dollars to eat and drink well, but don't necessarily believe that money buys taste. For these travellers, the discovery process is important. Spoon-feeding these people where to go won’t scratch that travel bug itch. They need to find and taste it for themselves. At the same time, the “fear of missing out” is real. Striking the right balance of information sharing is key to engaging this demographic.
  • Diaspora: Descendants raised abroad, these people romanticise their heritage and often seek to affirm feelings of identity by learning about food and culture. There are millions of ethnic Croatians all over the world, contributing billions of euros to the Croatian economy. For a small country like Croatia, the diaspora is a powerful stakeholder financially and politically... Learning food and drink traditions is a positive way to keep them engaged.
  • Local family farmer: Struggling but proud, these people believe their practices yield the best quality products. Preserving their traditions for future generations is very important to them. Local politics, financial strain and lack of labour support continue to endanger their way of life. Agritourism is a possible solution, but risky. Local farmers are wary of what large numbers of outsiders could do to their small villages, and so are only interested in connecting with a small number of the right kind of visitors.

Discovering + Learning + Preserving


A platform where lovers of gastronomy and culture can organically share their knowledge and discoveries in a way that is fun, engaging, and helpful. An introductory online experience extends awareness and curiosity about new farms and foods. Beautifully packaged samples allow food lovers around the world a low-stakes way to engage in unique terroir products, they can “taste” a country from the comfort of their homes. The app goes on to build photo logs and capture memories across the whole traveller journey to provide a unique service for gastro-tourists. The service takes care of the small farms by rotating their efforts through the seasons to share the load of providing services to travellers.

Preserves uses a 3 prong approach:

Smart Maps; a treasure map of tastes and stories fueled by community input and AI.

  • A library of "must tastes" mapped around the world ensures users never miss out on the best each land has to offer. The platform intelligently maps and links user photos of food and drink to online content, allowing users to document and share their unique experiences.

Subscription Samples; unique terroir products delivered to customer's door each season.

  • Coalitions of family farms contribute to a subscription box of seasonal goods that features themed information on the subscribed region. Subscribers will receive different things, as boxes are filled randomly based on what’s available from each farm. 

Exclusive Seasonal Events;  hosted by local communities in rotation to not overwhelm any one particular village or family.

  • Each season a different location within the region hosts a small event, providing a unique cultural experience that builds mystique and appeal. Events are kept small to ensure a quality experience can be supported but guarantee sufficient income for each small group of family farms. 

While each of these elements could function as standalone services, they are much more powerful when combined. This creates a magical, multifaceted service with powerful triggers that encourage travel and discovery.


There are so many people I'd like to acknowledge. My tutor Andrea Edmunds provided valuable feedback, guidance, and kindness throughout. My dear aunt Milena Dragićević Sesic, a professor and UNESCO Chair, whose perspective and expertise were invaluable. Marko Madjarac, who generously gave his personal time, insight, and contacts to support my exploration and learning. Zoran and Slađana Polimac, whose beautiful family farm, sausage, and cheese inspired and motivated me. Marta Jareš and her family, who took great care to create a memorable experience and provide first-hand knowledge of farm life in rural Croatia. My own family, who ensured I grew up connected to my Slavic heritage and open to learning about the beauty of all cultures. My Maka, who like most matriarchs, expressed love through food and in many ways influenced my journey. And lastly, my husband Vizal, whose support ranged from driving me down dirt roads in foreign lands to critiquing my work, enabling my success. Thank you all.

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