Showing posts with label Tasting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tasting. Show all posts

Monday, September 7, 2015

Slow Cheese 2013 ~ Bra Italy

Slow Cheese may be the most tasteful festival on Earth. A cornerstone of the Slow Food movement, this biennial event, next scheduled for September 18-21, 2015, takes place at its headquarters in Bra, Italy. Aside from travel and lodging expenses, this sumptuous celebration is free and open to the public. Slow Cheese 2013 was my last stop on a month long self-guided tour of Italy’s Emilia Romagna and Piedmonte regions and it nearly convinced me to cancel my return flight and take up residence there.

Started in 1997 when Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, first brought together a small band of local dairy farmers, attendance is now approaching the 200,000 mark. Hotel accommodation in the region is at a premium and usually booked several years in advance. For that reason and the fact that I love to mingle in local atmosphere, I stayed in a modestly priced Turin hotel about thirty miles from Bra and took the train back and forth. Round trip was 15 Euros and lasted about an hour each way with stops at every village along the route. Since trains run at thirty minute intervals throughout the day, I took breaks to explore these villages on my return trip. Trofarello, Vallongo, Morello, Oselle, Carmagnola, Bandito, and even Alba down the line from Bra, all have a place in my mindscape now.

My first trip to Bra was the day before the festival opened and I recommend doing this if at all possible. It is an opportunity to enjoy this delicate village for its own sake as its ancient cobblestone streets are still relatively empty of outsiders. And it is thrilling to observe the focused intensity that brings this enormous festival together from all parts of the world, often with less than a day of on site construction.

Bra, Italy

Preparation Day


Chaos turns to ecstasy overnight. Mishaps become happy accidents in a way that only the Italians have mastered.  Most notable for me was locating a pairing workshop I purchased as an additional event. As a side note, all the special workshops are affordable and rewarding.

This particular workshop was a high profile vertical tasting of Parmesan cheeses ranging in age from six months to ten years, paired with French champagnes aged three to fifteen years. Not finding the venue on the official Slow Cheese map, I went to a Help tent where the guides, after extensive consultation among themselves, realized that the venue hadn't been included on the map. Va bene! They quickly improvised a sketched addition to my map and I came away with a personal experience of Italian perspective.

Slow Cheese is a distillation of all that is essential to human culture.  Those with the good fortune of being there know what a sensuous treasure that is.

Slow Cheese 2013



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Matter of Taste

Taste may be the least understood and most personally unique of all the senses, with genes and even geography playing major roles in the flavors we prefer.

History of Tasteful Discovery ~ Click for PDF
The mistaken notion that the tongue is sectioned into specialized zones for sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and later umami, resulted from a haphazard study done in 1901 by a German scientist named D.P. Hanig. Yet despite its inaccuracy, the "tongue tasting map" took hold and reigned until 1974 when another scientist, Virginia Collings, finally examined the research in enough detail to expose its folly. 

Adding to its mystery, taste is integrally tied to the sense of smell. In fact, much of the flavor we experience in our mouths is actually the result of aromas that flow toward the olfactory lobes through a connection at the back of the mouth. This is called Retronasal Olfaction and is the reason behind the slurping and swishing sounds that are common in wine tasting.

Lauren Buzzeo, Tasting Director for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, demonstrates the practice of "aspirating"- using the tongue to suck air into the mouth - in Step 4 of this video Wine 101: How to Taste.
Smell and Taste connect

A Festive Rogue River Blue Cheese
Of course, flavors and aromas are enhanced by all the other senses, creating the impression we record in memory.

An attractive presentation is often what we notice about a food in the first place.  An interesting texture that invites being touched can also spark curiosity about how it would feel against the tongue.

From a practical perspective, it is not surprising that all the senses influence our experience of taste.  This interplay has been our best help in learning to avoid being poisoned.

Flavor Descriptions ~ Click for PDF
As engaging as the biology may be, it is the pleasure (or disgust) of the experience that first comes to mind when we talk of tasting. Fortunately, the ability to appreciate flavors, textures, and aromas is not limited by economic status. There no reason for anyone to be intimidated by the idea of slowly considering what they've placed in their mouths.

Everything we eat presents an opportunity to develop an educated palate to impress the only audience that matters - our own selves. In this respect, taste is a personal revelation that the tongue evaluates and then describes through language, the foundation of all cultural heritage. A kiss, a flavor, a word spoken in love, the tongue is a gateway to the essence of being alive.

In the video below, Julia Powers, an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and graduate of the Academie Opus Caseus Affinage Program, takes us through the few simple steps that begin a lifelong journey of the senses.  By all means, Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cheese School of San Francisco ~ Basic Primer

Cheese School of San Francisco Tasting Classroom
Cheese School of San Francisco Tasting Classroom
Founded in 2006 by Sara Vivenzio, the Cheese School of San Francisco is the only independent institution of its kind in the nation. Located at 2155 Powell Street between North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf, the atmosphere in the school is absolutely charming.

I took the Basic Cheese Primer class taught by Judy Creighton. Judy serves as a board member for the California Artisan Cheese Guild and has a deep history in cheese appreciation. In addition to her consulting and educational work, she is also the cheese buyer at Lavender Ridge Cheese Market in Murphys, CA. Having spent many years as a French teacher, Judy’s classroom manner is engaging and the information is easily digested.
Cheese School of San Franciso Basic Primer Setting
Basic Primer Place Setting

Cheeses were arranged on individual tasting plates in a clockwise fashion. The first four were chosen as an introduction to the basic “types” from the creamy Fromage Blanc which is ready for market within minutes of being made to long-aged Grana types, including Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is often aged at least two years and sometimes more.

As we touched, smelled and tasted our way around our plates, Judy encouraged us to experiment with combining the cheese flavors with the dried fruits, nuts and wine at the table. I especially enjoyed being able to experiment with both red ( Marietta Cellars, Old Vine Red, Lot#54) and white (2009 Domaine La Hitaire, “Les Tours”, Vin de Pays de CĂ´tes de Gascogne) wine on such a wide variety of cheeses.

The whole experience was a thorough delight. Classes are often filled soon after they are posted, but if you miss out on one, there will certainly be more to come.  The Cheese School of San Francisco has become part of the city’s cultural heritage.