Food Pairing for the Rest of Us

“You are better at food pairing than you thought.” These are the words floating through my mind as I write this post, because I am astounded food pairing is so instinctual. We all can food pair. We do it all the time.

Ever eat a greasy slice of cheese pizza and ‘wash it down’ with one or several gulps of carbonated perfection and feel exceptionally satisfied in ways you and I both know water could not have replicated? Ever wonder why wine and cheese, despite the snobby stereotype, actually do go really well together? What about black tea or coffee with your rich dessert, Amber ale with your fish and chips, or a sweet white wine with fruit?

There is a reason these food combinations are familiar to a large majority of us. We have some instinctive basics about what goes well together. If not these specific examples, there are certainly regional combinations that just… click. I want to experience more intentional food and drink moments that “click,” so I went out and found the basic of basics guide to matching drinks with food.

Taste, Aroma, and Flavor

It’s important to draw a few distinctions, I think, for anyone who wants to understand the basics of food pairing. Specifically, the differences between taste, aroma, and flavor.

Taste is for the tongue: it is one of 5 or 6 sensations: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami (savory, earthy). Some add metallic. Taste also includes how our mouths feel after we’ve eaten something: a spectrum ranging from astringent (puckering sensation) to fatty (oily, heavy, coated sensation) is used as well as more obvious descriptors including temperature and texture.

Aromas are for the nose and the back of the throat. The particles from the food enter our nasal passages and meet up with nerve receptors to create the sensation of scent.

Flavor, if I understand it correctly, is the culmination of smelling the food, tasting the food, and reacting to the food. If you have a cold, food is salty or sweet, sour, savory or bitter: but it lacks character. I lost my sense of smell as a young girl for a few years. When I got it back, my food preferences changed dramatically. Likewise, if you only smell food, you lack the immediacy of the experience.

This is the medium through which food pairing can create new, exciting, and unexpected experiences. The play between the aromas and tastes of our food and drink work in concert. We can let the dice roll (i.e. wow, that glass of milk after eating my grapefruit REALLY was not pleasant!), or we can be proactive in setting up our food and beverage experiences for ultimate dining enhancement.