A few months ago, Chef Roland and I took 13 other people associated with Mississippi State University on our culinary tour, A Taste of Le Berry in the Central region of France. It was a wonderful experience in the French countryside where we spent a week on a country farm that had converted its buildings into cottages. These types of enteprises are called gites in France and they are always nestled in rural areas near to quaint little towns and villages. Ours was near to Sarzay where we had the opportunity to explore medieval ruins of Chateau Sarzay. I, personally, love it there!
As we spent each day visiting various communities experiencing the local markets, cafes, and restaurants, we all had new food experiences of tastes that were not part of our normal eating at home in the States. Some of us enjoyed the French cuisine more than others. Some, in our group, discovered their love of new tastes that they had never tried before. It was definately a different food culture than what was the norm of our own personal food choices.
As someone who has basically grown up with a typical American repertoire of food experiences,I see now how limited I am in understanding what tasting food is really about. Curious, I began to look up articles on "training the palate", wondering if anyone else was thinking about this subject. I was suprised to find quite a bit on the subject and was interested to learn that, in fact, we are born with a mouthful of tastebuds that have a very wide spectrum of tasting abilities. One article that I read discussed the fact that we can even diminish or "lose" our ability to taste depending on how we eat. Our personal food culture, the types of food and the preparation techniques we use, can greatly influence what it is that we want to eat and what kinds of food we will most seek out. If that's true, by eating the same thing most of the time, we can greatly limit our palate, our ability to taste and to enjoy a greater diversity of food. We can even lose our ability to enjoy real food, preferring an artificial product over natural food. Recently, at the Food Camp held at Mississippi State University, I saw that demonstrated when children voted their preference to be artificial lemonade over real, fresh squeezed lemonade. When asked why they preferred the artificial over the real, they said the artificial was more yellow and sweeter and that's what they liked.
From what I understand, an execptional palate is the ability to taste or detect a wide range of flavors, even very delicate, subtle ones. Just as artists are able to appreciate a broad range of colors to capture and appreciate the beauty of the world around them, developing a palate for fresh, delicious food becomes a significant key in our ability to discern the quality of the food we eat and our ability to appreciate what good food is truely about.
As I looked over various articles on the subject of training the palate, I came across one that really helps to clarify the different cultural attitudes regarding tasting food and the importance of developing that ability in young children through education. I encourage everyone to read over the article, I found it most interesting:
When Roland and I met, I was one of those people who opened the box or can and warmed up the family meal. After our marriage in 2005, I truely began to appreciate what food is really about, not only that it can taste very good, and be nutritious, but that it can be a celebration of who you are and the people that you share it with.