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"Edible luxury" best describes gourmet food. Instead of being defined as any specific group of foods, gourmet food is a somewhat nebulous idea about the relative quality and rareness of ingredients and methods of preparation. Although typically associated with rich and elaborate food, some items have made a crossover into more everyday cooking, and a touch of gourmet can be found in many homes.
A Lush History
Gourmet is a word with a checkered past. Interestingly, it is more properly applied, not to food, but to people, and in English this sense is retained by referring to a person who is knowledgeable about good food as a gourmet. However, a competing term, "gourmand," describes an aficionado of luxury food more aptly, as it, too, refers to someone well-versed in food. Both terms have had derogatory connotations in the English language, typically depending on whether or not the speaker could himself appreciate gourmet food; gourmet has largely been rehabilitated as a positive word, though gourmand has not.
A Savory Lifestyle
Food falling into the gourmet category is associated with having the means to feed yourself for reasons other than sustenance alone. Many people, provided the time and resources, devote themselves to cultivating refined tastes, participating in food and wine tastings and classes, and even organizing trips to visit the world's great restaurants and growing regions.
A Delectable Rareness
Gourmet meals are most traditionally served in several small courses. This is to give a broad but coherent flavor experience, and also to avoid overloading the palate -- or the stomach -- with the strong and rich flavors of gourmet food. Gourmet foods are known for their rareness, such as the coffee known as Kopi Luwak, which has been partially digested by an animal in Indonesia known as the Luwak, and expense, such as caviar costing hundreds of dollars per ounce.
A Rich Selection
Some of the best known gourmet foods include foie gras, and pate, caviar, escargot, cheeses, including the prized "triple cremes," truffles -- the world's most valuable mushrooms, served shaved -- and a number of other specialty products. Generally, there is a gourmet equivalent of most foods, including bacon and even candy.
Gourmet food was indeed, for a long time, the sole purview of a group of select very wealthy individuals. However, a growing movement to bring gourmet food to the United States has contributed to a growing gourmet food industry and, hence, to something of a decline in the price of gourmet foods.
- "The Professional Chef 9th ed."; The Culinary Institute of America
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