As an AmE speaker, the word 'artisanal' sounds very new to me.

I see it every where nowadays on advertising and packaging for grocery store items like bread, cheese, olive oil, and I've seen it associated with whiskey and beer (presumably an adjective for 'microbrewery').

It's modern meaning is clear: 'artisanal' is 'made by an artisan' (rather than mass produced), or 'in the style of an artisan' (that is, mass-produced but with ingredients and process ending in a product that seems less industrial than others). For example, 'neo-Tuscan bread' and the word 'artisanal' appear on the same packaging for a loaf of bread.

Google NGrams has:

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with a large increase since the 60's. Looking at the links there, the 70's are full of references, but mostly to 'artisanal fisheries' (which sounds like a euphemism for 'local' 'non-industrialized' or 'subsistence'.

My question is is there any specific instance or set of instances where the marketers got hold of this? Was 'artisanal' used for other than fisheries back then? Was it used in the current sense of 'craft/hand-made' before the current marketing faux-folksy onslaught?


2 Answers 2


Searching the New York Times archives for artisanal brought these nuggets to light:

  • The first article to use artisanal dates from 11 Dec 1940, regarding the reorganization of Paris Couture, which was placed in an administrative group that included "Neighborhood Dressmaking and artisanal undertakings."
  • The first use of artisanal in relation to foods dates from 17 Dec 1980, in the article "Making Chocolates in the Artisan's Way."
  • According to this article, the American artisanal cheese movement began in the late 70s and early 80s; artisanal cheese gets its first mention in the Times in an article dated 6 May 1984, but the American artisanal cheese movement doesn't get its first feature article until "America's New Golden Harvest" on 22 Apr 1998.
  • The use of the word artisanal in its current sense explodes from the late 1980s onward.

Apparently, the cheese industry was the first in the USA to embrace and market the artisanal movement. (It seems that the French have always applied artisanal to their non-industrialized winemakers.)

With regard to artisanal fishing, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization tries to distinguish between artisanal and small-scale fishing.


The OED’s earliest citation supporting the sense of ‘handmade (especially with care and skill) using traditional techniques; having qualities associated with small-scale, pre-industrial production’ is this from the ‘New York Times’ of 9 October 1983:

Raymond Séguy's earthy, artisanal, sourdough baguette, made according to old-fashioned rules and standards, takes seven hours to prepare.

  • And how is it pronounced there? 'ahr - TIHZ - uh - nuhl'? Even though that sounds somehow not right to me, it is less wrong than any other alternative.
    – Mitch
    Jan 3, 2012 at 20:48
  • 1
    OxfordDictionaries.com says /ɑːˈtɪzən(ə)l/
    – Gnawme
    Jan 3, 2012 at 21:41
  • 1
    British /ɑːˈtɪzən(ə)l/ or /ɑːˈtɪzn̩(ə)l/, US /ɑrˈtɪzən(ə)l/ or /ɑrˈtɪzn(ə)l/. Jan 3, 2012 at 21:44

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