The science of taste

A cheese and wine pairing for the En Route team at Neal’s Yard Dairy Shop, hosted by the food editor and cheese expert, Francis Percival, turned out to be an exercise in multi-sensory integration.

Catherine Mitchell

We entered Neal’s Yard Dairy shop, in London’s renowned Borough Market, just as the market was echoing with the sounds of shutters being pulled down and stores being hosed out. Drawn into the dim interior of the dairy, the smell of ripening cheese wrapped around us like a warm blanket, shelves upon shelves of delicious rounds of cheese reaching upto the ceiling, all tagged with their origins and producers’ names.

As we salivated at the thought of the impending tasting, our host, Francis Percival, immediately impressed us with his highly academic knowledge of the Science of Taste – and how differently we all perceive flavour – something to do with jelly beans and blotting paper, sensoric acuity and mendalian genetics (I had to look that up later). And we thought we were here to simply eat cheese.

Finally we were allowed to taste – the first cheese was a Stichelton (made by Joe Schneider and team in Nottinghamshire, UK) – didn’t that start some discussion about Stilton traditions! There were three pairings: the first with Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 from Marlborough, New Zealand; followed by a Domaines Lupier, El Terroir Garnacha 2010, from Navarra, Spain, then a Château Doisy-Daene, Barsac 2006, from Bordeaux, France. What was most interesting about this was the discussion about how the first two really didn’t work with the cheese as the competing strong flavours fought with the strength of the cheese. However the sweeter wine was wonderfully complementary bringing to mind the flavour trend for salted caramel, that sweet and salty combination. This was all to do with the interaction between the salt and the tannin.

A Tunworth cheese (made by Stacey Hedges and Charlotte Spruce in Hampshire, UK) was used to demonstrate how the alkaline rind of the soft cheese really fights in the mouth with the acidic nature of wine. However the wonderful buttery centres are fantastic with rich and oaky whites.

Other rather surprising matches demonstrated further the Science of Taste – controversially – including matching a variety of cheddars and a washed rind with a Tentaka, Organic Junmai Sake, from the Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, and a J.W.Lees, Harvest Ale 2008 from Manchester, UK.

Not all of these combinations were popular but this session was not merely about eating and drinking delicious treats – this was about the Science of Taste and scientific it was, I have a whole new vocabulary of multisyllabic words with which to impress my friends as well as a new appreciation for “tasting” in general.