Welcome to the Taste Gym

Quick, which do you prefer: Coke or Pepsi? Do you like your steak cooked medium or medium-rare? And I bet you can tell whether the dairy in your coffee is nonfat milk or cream. If you could answer those questions, then you make decisions based on your taste preferences. You are a “taster.” 

In one Top Chef challenge, blindfolded chefs were asked to identify 20 ingredients ranging from peanut butter to corn. They scored only an average of six correct answers. So who is an expert? Aromas (and aroma accounts for most of the complexity of flavor) are visually cued: you see a strawberry and it tastes like a strawberry. Maybe it’s bursting with flavor. Maybe not. Tasting blind is a severe handicap.

In the kitchen, we probably won’t taste blind, but to cook, we need to know what our ingredients taste like. If we want to cook well, then we want to choose ingredients with the best flavor. How can we know what is good, better, or best? Ah, you’ve stumbled on an essential question. I don’t have the answer, but I am curious about the process of learning, and I hope you are, too. Since learning involves a favorite activity, eating and drinking, we can have a lot of fun as we go along.

Occasionally, I will post a taste exercise. You are invited to duplicate it, and then let’s discuss what we’ve learned. We may have more questions than answers. We can learn from each other.

A New Salted Caramel

A New Salted Caramel

I don’t keep my love of caramel secret. Do you? Don’t answer that; I don’t want to even think about why you might not love caramel, too. I can think of a reason not to like caramel: when it tastes simply of sugar with only small hints of butter and browned sugar. A good caramel, […]

Fruit and Fun Eppa Sangria

Fruit and Fun Eppa Sangria

It’s January. It’s cold and sometimes dreary. Everyone has a cold. Or is on a diet. No. No. No. Fight back. Find an excuse to have a party—it’s Monday night! My unbirthday! The cat had kittens! You made it through the day! Now, what to drink? Sometimes the past knocks and you want to open […]

Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose Sparkling Wine

Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose Sparkling Wine

Just one of my problems is that I open-and-drink, cook-and-eat, and only then think “Oh! I should have photographed that.” Thus the bottle of Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé from Domaine Allimant-Laugner is open and empty. This weekend, I did manage to take a picture with a bottle and glass. But you can see from the […]

Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Has Arrived

Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Has Arrived

The very best, most memorable Thanksgivings turn into riotous feasts. Not quite the right company for “serious” wines. Fuel your harvest celebration with fresh, fruity, and fun Beaujolais Nouveau 2010.

Fleur de Sel Caramel Candies Explored

Fleur de Sel Caramel Candies Explored

Sometimes research is just another word for indulgence. I walked into The Cheese Shop on Center Street in Healdsburg, CA to buy some feta and perhaps another treat. In this shop, owned by Doralice Handal, that is a dangerous frame of mind. The store contains nothing but treats. All food related but really, is there […]

Vanilla, Vanilla, Vanilla

Vanilla, Vanilla, Vanilla

My mother kept vanilla extract in a small, blue-and-white porcelain bottle. It smelled so good that one day I snuck a swig. What a shock. Vanilla flavor is all about aroma. In extract, that aroma is captured and contained within an alcohol base. Government standards require that vanilla extract contain 35% alcohol by volume. You […]

Tasting Old Wines

Tasting Old Wines

My friend, Ann Noble, creator of The Wine Aroma Wheel, would wince to hear me describe the wines from dinner the other night. But sometimes, when luck allows you to enjoy wines indescribably delicious, you have to venture beyond the bounds of precise language and risk ridicule. Because, while the flavors were indescribable, we humans […]

Tasting Dark Chocolate

Tasting Dark Chocolate

An impromptu tasting of 4 dark chocolates all with 71% or 72% cocoa.

Soy Sauce Tasting

Soy Sauce Tasting

With Kikkoman as a standard, comparing organic gluten-free tamari


Testimonials

I made the couscous salad for my family and they loved it! It was very gratifying for me. I realize one of the reasons I like that recipe is that it’s basic with room to adapt, ie use other vegetables, etc. So I get to be creative.

-Suzanne Harris

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

Contact Penni Wisner

www.PENNIWISNER.com

cook@penniwisner.com

415.552.6579