Long before it accompanied him on his many misadventures, Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski’s bulky, brown sweater was a sartorial staple of the Pacific Northwest. Known as a Cowichan, the outerwear has been hand- knit by indigenous people in British Columbia since the 1800s, when Scottish settlers and missionaries first introduced the Indians to knitting. (They’d been weaving their garments from goat hair in previous centuries.) The distinctive sweater made waves at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair; since then, the shops in Vancouver have been brimming with Cowichans, all showcasing similarly beautiful tribal patterns. So how can you spot a fake in a crowd? Throw some water on it. Real Cowichans aren’t just warm—they’re water- proof! Because they’re made with untreated wool, the garments contain enough lanolin (a waxy substance produced by woolly animals) to keep wearers dry.
2. Vidalia onions
Snickers bars and Tootsie Roll Pops weren’t the only sweet things to come out of the Great Depression—onions belong on the list too! In 1931, Georgia farmer Mose Coleman planted
a batch of the pungent veggies but was shocked when the onions turned out so mild that they could be eaten like apples. It turns out, the low sulfur con- tent in East Georgia’s sandy soil was perfect for turning plain old onions into dirt candy. Over the next 50 years, the grocery chain Piggly Wiggly made Vidalia onions a produce aisle superstar by distributing the veggies across the South. Meanwhile, local farmers won protection for their distinctive crop in the 1980s; as a result, only 13 counties and portions of seven others can legally call their onions Vidalias. Today, the state pays tribute to its favorite veggie with an onion museum, where visitors can learn about Vidalias while hanging out with Yumion, Georgia’s official onion mascot.
3. Cuban cigars
Even John F. Kennedy understood the value of a Cuban. When the sitting president realized that the U.S. would need to levy an embargo on the island nation, he ordered his press secretary to round up as many of his beloved Petit Upmanns as possible before the ban took effect. His secretary came back with 1,200 stogies. So what makes the Cuban so special? The mineral-rich soil, the subtropical climate, and its contraband status all contribute to the cigar’s allure. But ask any aficionado and he’s likely to tell you that it’s not the materials so much as the women who roll them. Torcedoras churn out the world’s best cigars using nothing more than tobacco leaves, their hands, and a few dabs of flavorless vegetable gum. Though the smokes are still illegal in the U.S., Cuba’s cigar trade is doing just fine. In 2011, it sold $401 million worth of authentic puros around the world.
4. Roquefort cheese
Nibbled by the Romans and a favorite at Charlemagne’s dinner table, the cheese known as Roquefort has plenty to hang its hat on. Even its origin is steeped in romance. According to legend, the moldy blue cheese was first discovered when a shepherd left his lunch in a cave to chase a beautiful woman. Months later, the hungry fellow returned to find that a mold, Penicillium roquefort, had infected his grub. Nonetheless, he ate it—and declared it delicious. The cheese is still made in those caves today, but the manufacturing is far more intentional. France maintains strict regulations on the temperature of milk, the grazing habits of sheep, and, of course, the specific place of production, which must be the caves under Mont Combalou in Southern France’s tiny Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. In fact, cheese-making is the town’s only industry, meaning that if your cheese bears Roquefort’s traditional red sheep wrapping, you’re biting into the real thing.
5. Newcastle brown ale
In the mid-20th century, you could be sure that every bottle of England’s beloved Newcastle Brown Ale came from the same place: Newcastle. To safeguard that tradition, the beer’s manufacturers fought for and won protected status for their brew in 2000. But in 2005, when they wanted to consolidate brewing operations by moving the factory across the River Tyne and effectively out of Newcastle, they first had to get the protected status revoked. Several years later, they moved even farther. Now all Newcastle Brown Ale comes from Tadcaster, nearly 100 miles outside the city for which the beverage was named.
6. Kobe beef
Every piece of Kobe beef takes an identical odyssey to the dinner plate. The trip begins in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture with Tajima cattle, a burly breed with bodybuilder forequarters developed from hundreds of years of pulling carts. Raised on local grasses and waters, the cows live a charmed life that often includes massages and classical music at dinnertime—at least until their third birthday, when the party comes to an abrupt end. To gain the Kobe seal, the cows must be processed in a Hyogo slaughter- house, where the beef faces strict marbling standards, ensuring a high fat content. The process is extremely selective; only about half of the cattle make the cut. As for the so-called Kobe beef you can purchase in the U.S., the majority of it isn’t really Kobe—it comes from a crossbreed of the Japanese cattle that’s raised on grains, delivering a very different taste. So how can you spot a faux-be from
a Kobe? Check the label. According to Forbes, every slice of Kobe beef sold “must carry the 10-digit identification number so customers know what particular Tajima-gyu cow it came from.”