the great pineapple debate
February 17, 2006

[see addendum, 2/23/06]

Wine and cheese share a lot of cocktail party time, but, when it comes to creative adjectives, cheese is getting the short end of the stick. With wine—encouraged by the pop culture currency of Sideways or, depending on your pop culture, Mondovino—our imaginations are given free range, settling on descriptions like "green apple jolly rancher" or "barnyard." Language pours onto word walls, aiming for that perfect expression of white Burgundy. (Well, it does for some of us.)

My friend Wendy had some people over Friday night to finish off the cheese she'd ordered for her party last week (and you have to love parties that necessitate second rounds). We decide we'll try to describe the cheeses as we eat them—but it's been a long week, and most of us are more inclined to say, "The cheese is good: Now let me eat it in peace." And, really, beyond rating each cheese's level of creaminess, saltiness, stinkiness or—for the very ambitious—cheddared curdiness, we don't really have a vocabulary for this.

The thing is, one of these cheeses tastes like pineapple. We know because an expert told us, and, what's more, we can taste it. There it is, right where you'd expect cheddar or cream or salt: pineapple. The question is: Which cheese? As soon as such a strikingly un-cheese-like word enters the conversation, we start tasting pineapple in everything.

If thoughts can be guided so easily by the power of suggestion, why not tastes? I'm not really all that great at tasting wine, but when I've read or heard someone else's wine words, chances are I'll be able pick up on those elements. But is there any way to know if we all taste the same thing? Or would if we didn't know what we should be tasting? Another guest says that, given wine in a dark mug, most people can't tell if it's red or white.

Eventually we narrow the pineapple-cheese candidates down to two, with those championing the Piave (including myself), and those gunning for the Doddington. We'll need our cheese expert to set us straight. But when all is said and done, I think I may prefer my cheeses as expected: milky, salty and a little animal-like. I highly recommend Garrotxa, a very young goat cheese from Catalonia.

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Addendum
from Wendy, 2/23/06

"Upon consulting with my trusty frommagier, the cheese that is 'reminiscient of pineapple' is indeed the Piave (full bodied, Parmigiano Reggiano-like), not the Doddington (which was cheddared and had a red rind).

But, of course, a pineapple aroma can surely mean different things to different people; I see no reason why a little aromatic relativism can't be applied to cheeses...."

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