By Julie Couture
Professional Pastry Arts
The Professional Pastry Arts program curriculum focuses on French baking techniques, tempering chocolate, making ice cream, creating showpieces and learning plating designs. But for four afternoons, the focus shifts to tasting tea, coffee, cheese and wine.
It may not sound like it fits with the curriculum, but it does. Knowing what these food items taste like allows us to explain them to others and pair them with the proper foods.
We started off with tea, tasting white, green, and black and infusion teas. When the chef-instructors asked what the first tea tasted like, we noticed it tasted like grass. Actually, all of the teas smelled and tasted like grass. As the tea leaf is a plant, it makes sense. The chefs asked us to go beyond the smell of grass. When we did, we noted hints of orange and apricot and sometimes spices. Focusing on the full flavor of the tea allowed us to fully understand how to pair it with desserts.
Coffee was next. I’m not a big coffee drinker; actually, I’m probably one of four people in the world who doesn’t drink coffee at all. But, I was ready for the assignment. We tasted them without cream, sugar, milk or other additions. Black coffee is quite interesting, and I tip my hat to those who enjoy drinking it that way. The different types of coffee varied from each other in subtle ways that were not easy to detect. Consequently, I found it more difficult to determine dessert pairings for each type.
Our third tasting was cheese. There were nine glorious cheeses to taste. Aside from one that tasted like mold – because it was supposed to – they were all outstanding. The different textures and flavors were more pronounced with the cheeses compared to our previous tastings. Some had hints of grass due the cows’ diets; others tasted like the material used to wrap the cheese. They also varied in texture which influences the dessert pairings.
The piece de resistance was wine tasting on day four. Vanessa Vigneault, the sommelier from International Culinary Center’s Intensive Sommelier Training program was very knowledgeable. She educated us regarding how grapes are grown, how wine is made, and the fungus – yes fungus – named Botrytis that contributes to the sweeter flavor of some wines. Each wine had its own unique smell, taste and color. Hence, each could be paired with different foods. I deemed port a winner as it goes well with chocolate.
We still have much to learn about each of these food items. Two hours smelling and tasting tea, coffee, cheese and wine did not make us connoisseurs. For example, it takes years before someone can be a master sommelier. The tastings did provide a good building block in our careers. With time, practice, and more tastings, we will learn to understand the nuances of tea, coffee, cheese and wine, and with which desserts they should be paired.