Umami and Cheese
Posted 12 July 2004 - 11:39 AM
Thank you for participating in this Q&A. I was lucky enough to attend one of your smaller classes last year at the F&W Classic at Aspen, where your passion for all aspects of making and appreciating cheese was so poetic and compelling. In particular, I remember your lyrical description of a cheese made from sheep who graze on wild herbs. You are a cheese evangelist, and while I always had liked cheese before, I had a cheese epiphany that day. I am grateful to you for opening my mind and palate.
A subject of interest to me and many others here is umami. Would you please share any thoughts you have about umami and if or how it relates to enjoying fine cheese? Thank you.
Posted 12 July 2004 - 12:16 PM
I seem to have gone 53 years having pondered neither the fourth dimension nor the fifth sense of taste (umami).
That being said, cheese is often salty, rarely sweet, occasionally bitter and never sour. So none of the four senses, in any combination, serves to define cheese. There must be umami somewhere. Where be umami? Ou est la bibliotheque? I promise I will ponder this extemporaneous response to your startling question. Umami must be a subjective intangible that for me must be savory. Savory for me is the only one of the (now -- so we're told) five that is at once a flavor sensation as well as a fragrant one, and it is this fragrant flavor-sense that makes or breaks an edible substance for me, because it is the only one that is capable of transport, of delivering me to another physical place -- the one the foodstuff I am tasting comes from. It is this response, then, that makes a foodstuff MEMORABLE for me, which is the only criterion I seek. I am easily transported by numerous foodstuffs via olfactory, but not so via flavor. Savory, though is both olfactory AND a flavor sense, I believe. And cheese being the most olfactorily shameless of any foodstuff, umami should probably be DEFINED by one's response to certain cheeses. I am further bolstered in my response, ridiculous though it may be, by the fact that I have always vastly preferred non-sweet accompaniments to cheese; dressed olives, Marcona almonds, roasted tomatoes, charcuterie/salumi. I prefer savory with savory. I apparently have always striven to stun myself with umami and I never even knew its name.
Godalmighty, I must be losing my mind.
Posted 13 July 2004 - 02:35 PM
At least to my humble tastebuds and nose, there seem to be some shared qualities amongst food items which turn out to have substantial umami - prosciutto, aged cheeses (especially Parmigiano-Reggiano), truffles, fish sauce, miso paste, etc. I don't know if that is umami itself that I am perceiving, but they are wonderful things to taste and smell.
I also find it fascinating that many have a savory usage as well as a sweet pairing or balancer in the context of their native cuisine, e.g. prosciutto and melon, grana and Balsamico, miso and sugar, etc.
Posted 15 July 2004 - 11:32 AM
Getting to know you . . . !