Taste Memory

It seems like forever ago that I was in culinary school (graduated almost 7 years ago now, damn time flies).  It was here that I had a real taste awakening.  Sure food is one thing, it is common place now to search for new tastes and experiences.  I have been exploring different foods for most of my life.  It helps to spend some time away from where you grew up.  For me it was spending time not only outside of Michigan but also outside of the country.  It does also help to grow up with great taste memories of foods in your own home as well.  In our house we grew up with pasties and home made pizza, in fact quite a bit of what we ate growing up was made at home.  It was an odd day if we ate out.  But I digress…

It was during culinary school that really tasting what I drink hit home.  I had been working on learning beer again even before school.  By learning I mean more than just drinking for the drunk.  Sure, I had sampled some great beers but I realized I did not really understand what it was I was drinking yet.  At least not until I went to a wine tasting with the schools wine club.

This tasting was on our anniversary of all things.  My wife who doesn’t really care for wine was happy to go as it was a different night out and we had plans to go see a friend’s band after the tasting.  The tasting was of beaujolais nouveau.  Beaujolais that are bottled within a few short weeks after fermentation to avoid the build up of tannins.

I don’t remember the wines we sampled.  Really there are only a couple things that stood out from the experience.  The big one was when the instructor (a Master Sommelier, picture the stuffy wine world of the 70s through 2000s and you might have an idea of what this entailed) asked my wife what her thoughts were on the wines.  My wife who rarely holds back flat out said she doesn’t really care for wine.  His jaw dropped about an inch, he blinked and then said “Then why are you even here!?”  My wife of course blames me.  Later my wife in a half drunk state says to me “He yelled at me. It’s my anniversary and he yelled at me.”

Where were we going with this?  Oh ya, so the second thing that came from this experience…

This is when I learned the meaning of taste memory.  A flavor I picked up from one of the wines brought an immediate flash of earthy basement.  If you don’t live in Michigan you may not know this smell.  The basement of my parents house has a damp mustiness to it.  Even with the use of dehumidifiers the smell is always there.  The wine had transported me to my parents basement bringing with it the emotions of growing up in the house.  Nothing had ever done that before on such a primal level.

Tasting at this level is a very analytical level of tasting.  When drinking beers I rarely try to push the taste memories like this (most of the time).  Although, there have been a few beers that I have brewed that I crafted them with the intent to trigger a strong emotional memory.  This doesn’t always succeed but on the occasion that it happens at least for me I consider it a good day.

Has there been a food or beverage in your experience that draws you deep into your memories?  When you sampled the item again were you able to draw up the same response?

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16 thoughts on “Taste Memory

  1. I've had this happen a couple times, but smell does it more often for me (the smell of cut grass always makes me think of my grandparents house). But taste, pumpkin pie makes me think of childhood. Oh and pistachios, my dad and I used to eat them together, now I always think of him when I eat them.

  2. That is interesting, hadn't given it much thought. I don't know if there are foods or drinks that have done that, like music does, but I will pay more attention in the future. About the only time drinks take me back to a memory is when I am drinking and I think about a time I got drunk of the same type of drink that I am drinking, but not like you and the basement experience. Yes I understand the Michigan basement thing, I live in Michigan.Great article,Jenn

  3. Leora is speaking my language." CHOCOLATE!I love the way sometimes when I open a chocolate bar or a box of chocolate that the floral notes of the chocolate just about knock me over they're so intense! I firmly believe that eating (or drinking) should involve all the senses: how does something look? How does it smell? How does it feel in your mouth? How does it taste? And in the case of chocolate bars, you even have the sound element, as the snap you hear when you break the bar is part of the excitement. Cheers!

  4. The rise of processed foods robbed our lives of something very important. Imagine a world where you did not know the smell of baking bread or cookies. Is it any wonder that baking cookies in a house for sale leads to the house being sold faster.

  5. You and Leora both I think hit on a hot button for many people. There are so many taste memories associated with chocolate. I think this is why when picking out the flavor notes of many alcohols chocolate is a common flavor component. It is associated strongly in our mind with many happy feelings.

  6. Funny story on your night out wine tasting – What gets me every time is the smell, or even the thought of a pot of pinto beans and fresh cornbread. A staple in our Texas home as a kid. For dessert we would have warm cornbread with melted butter and honey….mmmmm….

  7. Mine is not a pleasant one… When I was little, I ate an entire bag of Cheetos. Suffice to say, the Cheetos did not like me, and they ended up all over the hallway carpet. Now, when I see Cheetos, my stomach turns.

  8. Of my siblings, I am the only one that was born a northerner. So I did grow up with a few of the classic southern items like cornbread. Some of them are great food memories others (like grits) are items that I immediately turn away from.

  9. Just reading about the pinto beans, I can both smell and taste the ones my grandma used to make and it fills me with warmth and brings a smile to my face. I was born and raised in Paris, France, but my mom is originally from El Paso, Texas and my grandma had immigrated from Mexico. I loved her beans, with a warmed tortilla and butter… simply scrumptious!

  10. Boy don't get me started. I remember my very first wine ever, Lambrusco. Yeah you heard right. I still remember that taste. I have long since graduated to the finer wines but it was the start of a great love affair of wine. 🙂

  11. I am not an experienced chef like yourself but I am a self proclaimed foodie. I completely understand the connection between food and memories. Growing up there were so many fond experiences but as I grew up they never really tasted the same. I recently made my grandmother’s “spanish doughnuts” which flooded me with wonderful memories but they tasted much better as a child.

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