Been thinking about this quite a bit as of late. Also tried thinking of a way to write/say this without people getting their knickers in a twist or sounding as if I’m pointing out a fault or pointing out a preference but then it occurred to me, twisting knickers is one of my favorite pastimes, that and as someone that has had my cheeks exposed after having my own twisted over and over again….well pardon me as I pull the floss from my ass and step upon my own soapbox for once. Okay it’s been more than once but whatever.
“I was glad there was that chili oil there. I poured that over the top and it was much better”
I stood there, my mouth agape, eyebrows nearly at the bridge of my nose my face so scrunched, listening to the recantation of a coworker eating a pizza that both Randy and I thought was one of the most subtly delicious we had ever had the pleasure to tug between our teeth. Randy had gone first, he and his wife checking out the new pizzeria attached to Michael’s On Naples, one of the best restaurants we have in Long Beach. Randy and Dale came in the next day, their energy so effusive and infectious…not to mention I have a very real respect for their palates, I knew I had to check it out. Once I did, once I sunk my grill into that mildly salty and toothsome crust, the supple and creamy, ultra-mild burrata cheese spreading its sweet milky flavors across my tongue, the tender and subtly spiced mortadella lending its meaty lean and the sprinkle of crushed pistachios, just one more bit of crunch and texture. It was simply sublime and I spent the next few weeks after taking that pizza for a spin in my mouth, telling everyone about it. My coworker went and honestly felt that it was bland, needed something and ended up squirting chili infused olive oil all over the top in order to find pleasure in it.
I spent days thinking about this. How could something two of found so completely perfect be deemed flat and dull by another one of “Us”? I know this shit rarely bothers others, in fact I know for a fact my coworker never thought another thing about it but…well I did and I even went back, this time to try it with the spicy oil and see if it did in fact make my perfect pizza even better. Hunkered down with my smoky-just-out-of-the-fire crust, the toppings gently placed upon its warm surface, the cheese beginning to ooze and the thin slices of mortadella starting to sweat and release its oils into the crust. I indulged in a chili oil free piece, sunk my teeth into it and let each and every little nuanced bit of flavor skip across my palate like a pebble across a pond. Slightly charred bread, milky cheese, green notes from the crushed pistachios and that haunting fatty, groan inducing spice from the lacy sheets of meat. Could have died right there…well okay, might have wanted a glass of Champagne and the wickedly wet and powerful kiss but short of that? Well this was a bite of sheer perfection in my book. Now if this back arching moment could be made better with the introduction of just one more component, well hell I was so in and my hands were almost shaking as I grabbed that bottle of oil and gingerly drizzled it across the next piece.
Dead. Everything I loved about that sultry bit of pie was rendered dead with the addition of that oil. It was as if all the notes just became one long flat note and after three bites I could not, did not, wish to continue eating that pizza. What the hell?! How was this better to him? How could he find more pleasure in this pile of bread with spicy oil….as you could not taste any of the subtle flavors underneath…more interesting or palatable than that knee weakening, “taste all of me” thing that I was getting from the piece of pizza I had experienced just seconds before? Left the rest of that piece on my plate and grabbed another, oil free one to revive me and as I sipped on my glass of Verdicchio began to understand….too sensitive or not sensitive enough?
“Randy, that’s not at all hot” Me after watching my boss tuck into a plate of Mexican food. His nose was running, eyes beginning to water as the rest of us snarffed away completely unaffected. I too am a bit of a baby when it comes to spice but he was suffering far more than I and way more than the rest of the team at the table. He kept proclaiming how spicy the food was, the rest of us shook our heads, wondering what the hell he was talking about…until my own tongue began to protest. I never got the runny nose and would never have outright called the dish “spicy” but I too was feeling a bit of a burn and was absolutely captivated by those around the table that were feeling nothing at all. The Scoville scale had not changed from plate to plate. The actual amount of spice was not different, so why the vast and pretty extreme difference in reaction? Too sensitive? Not sensitive enough?
Funny thing when you start talking about palate sensitivity, everyone gets their feathers up and takes offence to the very idea that you are saying your palate is in any way more sensitive or astute than theirs. I get it and I don’t disagree. No one wants to hear that anyone tastes or feels more than they do, it somehow implies a deficiency and who the fuck wants to hear that noise? I get it but to ignore or worse, act like it’s not a fact? Flat out lie. And I would like to also point out, to be too sensitive is just as much a deficiency as not being sensitive enough…trust me I’m a chick and hearing either of those, bad.
I once told Sir Charles Olken that I think I might have a problem with primary. I said it not only to take some of the heat off my shoulders but also to try and explain the way wine presents itself to me. I find that my palate reacts to primary fruit in a way that I personally don’t find appealing. Just this trouncing of brown or spun sugar that, much like that chili oil, makes everything taste one note to me. When that happens, much like that chili oil pizza….I reach for another slice. On that same note, I find that my palate reacts to wood tannin in a way that gives me nothing but bitter. In truth, if a wine is heavily oaked, (and I mean from anywhere, don’t start giving me shit about new world versus old here, not the point, like at all) I find that there is this horrifically unpleasant bitter note that rides along the sides of my tongue and absolutely refuses to let go…sucks and there is not a chance in hell I want to take another sip of that. Does that make me a better taster? I think not….
But I’m not alone here….
“I tested that wine you said had a bit too much sweetness for you. It did have a bit of residual sugar” a winemaker/employee that refused to believe that I got some sweetness on a wine he brought into the shop. “How did you even get that?” he asked, little sugar measuring machine in hand. “Well, I just didn’t love it” was the only thing I could say. When he tasted it he got no cumbersome sweetness, I did. Who was right?
We both were.
Machines and years of tasting aside, we all have our own palates and some of us need a little more pop to make an impression, others crave the “let me pull it out of you” kind of palate experience. Read all you want, slurp away on samples and defend as you must but there is no one palate that has it right. Not mine, not Randy’s, not our domestic or Italian wine buyer, not some blogger or wine writer. Just as each one of us craves a certain touch, kiss, refinement in speech, arch of the spine…for all the rhetoric and bickering, no one has it more right than you do. Find what speaks to you. Talk to us. Don’t be afraid or intimated, tell us what you want.
I loved my unadulterated pizza, my fellow wine professional did not. Was I too sensitive or he not sensitive enough? Neither. We both had it right…for Us.