Considering that the last time I took a hard science class was when I received a C-plus in high school chemistry, believe me when I tell you I had trouble keeping up. Luckily, the exam we will take in a few weeks — to receive our course certificates — will be open-notebook, and we are provided a glossary and all the pages of Jacobsen’s PowerPoint presentation.
After lunch, there is a tour of Murray’s caves, where the cheese ages. Then we’re led through the tasting of eight more cheeses by Tyler Frankenberg, the company’s customer experience manager, also a Certified Cheese Professional. This tasting is about comparing variations in cheesemaking: the differences between cheese near the rind vs. the tip, washed rind vs. ash, unaged vs. aged (“older doesn’t necessarily mean better,” we’re told). At one point we compare two versions of a funky pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese called Hollander with an aroma that people describe as earthy, mineral, “like mom’s basement” and even redolent of ammonia. “With this one, the bark is worse than its bite,” Frankenberg says.
Caviar is salt-cured fish eggs from sturgeon traditionally from the Black and Caspian Seas, though due to regulations most Caviar today is farmed. Caviar is strictly from surgeon, whereas other fish eggs may be considered roe. Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga are the three main varieties of Caviar, and are considered a delicacy throughout the world and due to their rarity, and for their rich creamy flavor and delicate texture. Beluga Caviar may sell up the several thousand of dollar per pound, depending on flavor, size and consistency. Today, some varieties of farm-raised American caviar are considered very high in quality, comparable to Caspian caviar.
This trading from non-local regions, also means, almost by necessity, that there was much cultural exchange between different groups to get these goods. The Columbian Exchange introduced many ingredients and styles to the new world and Europe starting with the expansion of the Iberian Empires. The new world introduced to Europeans tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and many more. Another example would be interactions with the Islamic world, which impacted catholic cuisine in the 1100s. These interactions introduced many spices, the theory of the culinary cosmos, and cooking items such as North African pottery. These trades were facilitated by rich merchant states that traded with them the most notable being Venice.
The world of cigars is easily as complex as whiskey or cheese or chocolate, but it faces an obvious challenge. “Our industry suffers from a stigma,” Armenteros says. “We don’t have any of the prestige of wine or Scotch, yet drinking those are just as dangerous.” Because of this, the cigar consumer is quite different from those of other gourmet products. “The cigar smoker is a very independent-minded person,” he says. “It takes a certain individualism. You need to have, let’s say, some balls to smoke a cigar. This type of person has strong opinions. We work with a lot of strong characters in this business.” Armenteros believes an educated, certified expert helps add a level of sophistication.
Norman Van Aken is a culinary legend and a proud adopted Floridian, which plays nicely into delicious and often Latin-, Caribbean- and even Key West-infused fare. Sit outside and enjoy spectacular views of lakes, gardens and the Ritz-Carlton's expansive, green golf course or dine in climate-controlled majesty – vaulted ceilings and Italianate windows help bring that outside essence in. Tapas like Key West shrimp ceviche or delicate caviar may prime your palate for creamy cracked conch chowder or rhum and pepper painted Florida black grouper. Norman's is, of course, not a one-dollar-sign venue, but for vacationers and those looking for a sumptuous meal out, few venues are as resplendent as the Ritz-Carlton, and few restaurants could match it as well as Norman's.
Despite my lack of the requisite hours, Bauer agrees to let me sit for the three-hour exam, held in a hotel ballroom in Pittsburgh during the society’s annual conference. I arrive along with 50 other candidates and am shown to my table, which has a clipboard of evaluation sheets for a dozen categories of cheese — from soft-ripened to cheddars to blue mold to goat cheese to washed rind — as well as cups of aroma samples, unidentified liquids marked A to J that I will have to sniff and identify blind. The proctor tells us there are to be no photos, and no posting or sharing on social media. “Though there’s not much in your phone that can help you now,” he says. Along the back wall of the ballroom are a team of cheesemongers cutting samples, where we will go to get our cheeses to evaluate.
After a long day at work, on the golf course, or riding Flight of the Hippogriff 12 times, you just want to go somewhere for dinner that you know will be good and that everyone you’re with will like. For us, that’s The Ravenous Pig. This neighborhood restaurant and bar in Winter Park has a dining room for larger groups, a bar for when you pop in solo, and a tap room if you just want to grab a snack and try a few of their beers brewed on-site. The seasonal menu includes everything from oysters and shrimp and grits, to braised pork belly and a short rib brisket burger that you’ll be thinking about the next day.
Indeed, what the rise of specialized taste education, the cult of sensory analysis, and the wine-ification of everything means is that taste is becoming more and more codified all the time. There are good tastes and bad tastes; not only that, there’s a growing caste of gatekeepers in every field who are keeping score on what tastes great, middling and flawed. Maybe this is what morality or philosophy looks like in an increasingly post-religious, post-intellectual, materialistic United States. We are a people in need of an authority, a higher voice, some guidance — even if it comes from behind the cheese counter. Maybe, for many affluent Americans, the sommeliers of everything represent something shaman-like. Listen to me. I am your one true sommelier.
Serving ‘food for the starving artist’, Café Tu Tu Tango is an artsy, colorful little venue with a huge spirit of fun and community. Local artists display their work on the restaurant’s walls and strike up conversation with guests, while local ingredients are turned into delicious, tapas-style concoctions perfect for sharing. Try the Argentinean-style orange chimmichurri steak, the adventurous guava-glazed barbecue pork ribs or the chorizo al fuego – a delicious mix of spicy Spanish chorizo served with brandy-glazed fingerling potatoes. The atmosphere at Café Tu Tu Tango is vibrant and bohemian, so prepare to dive into a world where creativity meets community.