A Matter of Taste - Formaggio Kitchen

A Matter of Taste

I recently read a blog post titled “What’s the Point?”. I was directed to it via the New York Times Diner’s Journal Blog.

It’s worth a read but the opening paragraph gives you the gist:

I didn’t start this blog as an outlet for my rants but I have to complain a little bit. I’m over winemakers who have any agenda other than taste; those who want to make ‘natural wines’ or who set out to make wines which embrace some sort of philosophy. I know that we are all Children of the Earth, that we have only one planet and that we should treat the soil and groundwater (and each other) with respect. …but the next time I meet with a winemaker who claims to be driven by the will to be a ‘Steward of the Land’ and to ‘Express the soil’ I may just have to excuse myself. Call me ‘old fashioned’ but isn’t taste the point?

While I empathize with the frustration of being marketed to, doesn’t everyone who makes something have an agenda or a philosophy that drives what they do? Would you really want it any other way? Most producers I know set out to make the best tasting product they can, but they also consider the means they employ to get there. In my mind, it is imperative that retailers and consumers alike evaluate products on the basis of both taste and philosophy.

Consider a highly processed chicken nugget versus a breaded and fried cutlet from a heritage breed, humanely raised, local chicken (have you seen Portlandia?). Both are edible, but you will likely prefer the one you have acquired a taste for. Some might believe a preference for the processed nugget is “bad”, misguided, or uninformed, but in my mind, it is a personal choice and a matter of taste that is strongly influenced by what you’ve grown up eating, what’s been marketed to you and what you’re naturally inclined to enjoy.

I grew up eating McDonald’s on Sundays after church and came to love the taste. I eventually came to love Burger King a bit more, but that’s splitting hairs – the point is that I acquired a taste for those burgers. I didn’t care about the philosophy that drove those company’s to make their products – I just knew I loved the taste. As I grew older, I began to appreciate the differences between food production practices. I began to care about where my food came from and how it was prepared. I eventually stopped eating those burgers because it was less about taste than it was about the agenda or philosophy behind them and impacts I associated with them.

You might think wine is not subject to the same conflicts, but in fact, agendas drive wine production in similar, if less obvious ways. For example, there are plenty of wine makers using highly manipulative techniques as well as added ingredients in order to hit a perceived market taste just as there are wine makers who refuse any inputs other than grape juice and eschew extensive manipulation.

My taste in wine was developed later in my life and primarily while working at Formaggio Kitchen. The shop has always focused on wines made using sustainable and traditional production practices and I have become accustomed to the beautiful and sometimes challenging aromas and flavors of those wines. I’ve also come to value the agendas driving the producers of those wines. I periodically taste mainstream wines (some with great scores from the top wine experts) and I can’t help but feel that many of these wines are produced according to perceived market demands for consistency and homogeneity. This is an agenda of a different kind and one that pleases a large part of the market in the same way that McDonald’s or Starbucks do. These wines are not “bad”, and many would argue they are all about taste, but these wines are also very much driven by agendas.

Both my personal experience and my experience as a retailer suggest that it would be as much of a disservice to focus solely on taste as it would be to focus solely on an agenda. The interplay here is complex and I find myself tilting this way and that along a continuum of valuing taste as the end result and the philosophy as the means to achieve that end.

What do you think?

Tim Bucciarelli oversees general operations at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge and manages Formaggio Kitchen Online.

  • You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head. I find myself at a very similar fork in the road regularly. Thank you for putting it into words so well.