I love the scene in Ratatouille when Remy tries to show his brother Emile how to “taste”. He pairs the cheese with the grape, and at first Emile “gets it”. These colorful swirls fill the screen as notes of melody lightly play in the background. Then Remy starts passionately talking about combinations, infinite possibilities and the excitement behind cooking and Emile “loses it”.
I have been Remy. Those moments when you think you have combined something that is just awesome, uniquely full of flavor and all you want to do is share it with someone. As you excitedly gush your feelings, they stare back with the “ah honey you’re cute” face. Not the face you’re looking for.
I have been Emile. I live with a chef and a level two sommelier, the amount of geek out moments they have had over a glass of wine confuses me. No, I do not smell cat pee; and no, I have no idea what a jam made from unripe fruit smells like. You have lost me.
Tasting doesn’t have to be this complicated world. It is not reserved for gourmands and there is no certification you need to taste at home. Taste is personal. You just need time and an open mind. Here are five simple steps to think about:
1. Eat with Your Eyes: Look first. Examine the beer, wine, cheese, whatever it is. What does it look like? What is the color? Are there variations in the color?
2. Stop and Smell the Roses: Put that glass or piece of cheese right up in your nose and breath in. Take one of those deep breaths reserved for mountain air. Now think, where have you smelled that before? Does it remind you of fruit? Of animals? Of your spice drawer? Remember anything goes; you’re not going for a certification you’re just enjoying. If the cheese smells like cauliflower to you then it smells like cauliflower.
3. No Gobble, Gobble: Once the liquid or the food is in your mouth, pause. This is not the Nathan Hot Dog championship this is your home. In order to know what flavors you find in something you have to take a moment to reflect. Think about it.
4. Talk it out: No tasting experience is complete without talking about it. The best part about sharing with someone is that they may show you something you didn’t think about before. Black pepper in the wine? Oh yeah, I can smell that too.
5. Experiment: Now that you have identified what you taste in the wine or beer, and now that you have identified what you taste in the cheese…what pairs together? Does the brown butter notes of the cheese sound good with the caramel finish of the beer? One way to find out…taste!