Alex James

Slow Life | 17 October 2009

Taste the difference

It’s quite unusual to eat similar things together. If we’re having carrots, for example, it’s normal to eat only one type of carrot, but anyone who was to taste three completely different carrots one after the other — say a biodynamic baby carrot, a medium-sized organic purple one and a fat luminous orange one — just once would know, for ever, what type of carrot he prefers, which must surely be a useful thing to know. The point is that it’s really very hard to tell how much nicer one thing is than another unless you taste them side-by-side, and two or three similar things being served side-by-side is about the last thing that ever happens, normally.

I must admit I’ve not yet tried it with carrots, but I did recently serve a cheeseboard with six or seven blue cheeses on it, and no others. I only did it because I was road-testing my latest cheese, a blue, so I bought all the blues on the market that were closest to it to see how it compared. What is remarkable is not how similar, but how very different they all are — even the ones that are supposed to be the same. What was actually a technical exercise, I was surprised to discover, my guests really enjoyed. We tend to value variety — serving meat and three veg rather than meat and three carrots — but tasting similar things together opens up a whole world of exquisite detail. It is certainly the best way of sharpening one’s palate.

An all-blue cheeseboard is bang on the money anyway, even if I say so myself. The Supreme Champion gong at the British Cheese Awards, the ultimate cheese accolade, has gone to a blue two years in a row now.

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