Science versus art versus Great Taste
August is the big reveal. It’s the time when the winners in Great Taste morph from anodyne codes into food and drink. Now they’re alive: gaining personality, leaping from the shelf as we sneak a look at the packaging, hear the exaggerated backstories (they’re fun), and discover who has grabbed a star or two, or three. That’s the positive bit.
At the same time, I get the inevitable (but mercifully few) nagging missives. Mostly from producers who curiously criticise the judges, our process and us generally, without ever having been part of the assessment process.
It can be quite demoralising but, you know what, it’s fair. How on earth can Great Taste give feedback on food and drink without taking some itself? And some of our judging refinements have come from the more enlightened critiques.
There are several common themes among the disgruntled makers but the one that crops up every year is the science-versus-art debate. It’s one that burdens the hallowed body of knowledge-generators at the Academy of Cheese too. I can think of no better example where science, art and romance collide than cheese.
I’m asked to justify the judging panel and how they’re qualified, and it is a genuinely fair question. But one complainant this year insinuated that only those who have scientifically endorsed palates (they mercifully hadn’t spelt it ‘palettes’, although most do) should be eligible to judge.
Great Taste needs those types – the food technicians and organoleptic boffins – but any food should also be tasted by those with a softer touch: an understanding of flavour balance and length, mouthfeel and terroir, illustrated, perhaps, by the alchemy of a herbal infusion that has too many component parts for its own good but somehow just works.
What I learnt quickly after my consciousness to fine food awakened in the 1980s is that you need a balance.
There is certainly science to baking, cheesemaking, curing a salami and brewing a beer, but you also need something indefinable to make a cracking one. You therefore need a romantic and a scientist to appreciate them. Which are you?
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