My Mother is in town visiting and we are in the kitchen on her first night. I’ve prepared some French treats and bought some of my favorite cheeses for her to try. The first one I give her to taste is Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe (Brillat-Savarin with Truffles).
“What’s it like,” she asks me before trying it.
“Hmmm…” I ponder the best way to describe it. “Well, Brillat-Savarin is like a breath away from being butter so it’s kind of like the best butter you’ve ever eaten with truffles in it.”
“What are the truffles like?”
She’s had truffles on multiple occasions but wants to know what these truffles are like.
“I don’t know,” I say, I can’t think of the right way to describe them. “…truffles!”
This is a conversation that I have often and continue to fail miserably at; whether it is friends from overseas wanting to know what something tastes like or someone visiting who wants a description about what to order, I am often at a loss. I mean, how do you describe a food to someone who has never tasted it?
You can go the literal route but that usually doesn’t get you very far:
What does fromage de tete (aka head cheese) taste like? Pieces of skull meat in gelatin.
Not helpful? So surprising!
There is the rico-suave way to do it where you try to sound very sophisticated…and are usually annoying and give no helpful details:
Horse meat? Well, it’s similar to beef but with more depth of character while also having a playfulness.
Huh? Is this horse wine we are talking about?
There is the literal comparison route:
So, frog legs do taste like chicken but then not like chicken.
What does that even mean? Have you gleaned any greater understanding of the flavor of frog legs from this?
Then you can go the hard-core route in which you really break it down:
For example, when my sister was visiting last year, she commented on one of the cheeses we were about to try.
“Is this one of those cheeses that they like to say is “reminiscent of the farm?” She asks this while sniffing the soft white round. (This is the type of description that would be “rico-suave”)
“Yeah, probably, it is a super farmy one.” I turn up my nose and she gives me a questioning look. “MB likes them but I can’t handle it if they are too farmy.”
“I don’t know; if it is too farmy I feel like I’m licking a sheep that has been rolling around in hay and poo.”
So I never know exactly what to tell people. If it is something I love I want to use the most flowery and delicious-sounding language to try to entice them to try it; I want to make them desperately excited to experience this new and exquisite flavor. I want to impress upon them the utter amazing-ness that they are about to discover. But is it necessary to try so hard?
I once had a friend tell me that his foie-gras tasted like buttered popcorn. I remember looking at him and thinking “ACK – PHILISTINE!” How could he describe the rich and magnificent flavors of foie-gras in such a pedestrian way? …And then I tasted it. I had to smile to myself; he had absolutely nailed it. This particular preparation of foie-gras was definitely “reminiscent of the movie theatre”; however, my inner food-snob had been working so hard to make it sound impressive that I had missed the obvious.
Sometimes it is best to just describe things as what they are instead of trying to make them sound more sophisticated. At the end of the day, everything comes from the same place anyway. Why try to over-complicate it?
I turn back to my Mother in the kitchen, still struggling to think of the words to describe the majesty and the beauty of the flavor of Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe. Words like “earthy” and “terroir” are running through my head when she takes her bite.
She turns to me with a look of excitement on her face.
“Ooooh,” she exclaims. “It’s like really good dirt!”
I nod to myself and smile. She is exactly right…and that sounds pretty damn tasty to me.