Champagne Pleasure

3 Feb

Here at Gwiltypleasures I’m a big fan of…well…things that make life enjoyable. Life’s little “pleasures” if you will.

So it was with intrigue that I listened to a talk recently during a day-long celebration of Champagne at the Renaissance Hotel in King’s Cross on just this subject by Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.

Beautiful champagne glasses wait to be filled with bubbles...

I was there for the day to try lots of champagne from hosts G.H. Mumm & Perrier-Jouet, and sample some interesting food pairings with it – to say I was looking forward to the pleasures of the day was an understatement; I had been chatting about it for ages!

But, with some time to spare, I sat in on a discussion on luxury, which Pine spoke at. She told the audience that research shows we actually receive more pleasure from anticipating the eventual occurrence of something enjoyable than from the thing itself.

For instance, take a holiday: research shows we get more pleasure from the time anticipating all the exciting things we’ll do on holiday, rather than when we actually go on holiday. This made absolute sense to me – I’m a massive “planner”; someone who drools over guidebooks, looking forward to the eventual pleasure I expect I’ll get from going away to an exotic locale! When I get to my destination, I of course enjoy it immensely (usually) – but there’s something to be said for how fired up I get about the anticipation.

With this idea in mind, I headed to the molecular gastronomy event with something of a diminished excitement. I had been looking forward to this all week…would it not live up to expected pleasures?

Speaking at the event was renowned molecular gastronomy professor Peter Barham from Bristol University, who has worked with king of crazy-concoctions Heston Blumenthal and aims to understand why we taste things the way we do and how food can be looked at in a scientific way. The youngest Michelin starred chefs in the country – Casamia‘s Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias – were also providing the food. It was a rare treat indeed.

Casamia kings Jonray & Peter Sanchez-Iglesias address the crowd

Barham explained our taste buds can be influenced by temperature – if we eat something cold, then try something hot, the flavour profile will change. The same goes for how we smell things. For example, he suggested a good trick to play on a friend: take an orange, put it in a dark container and heat it up. Then have the friend smell it. If they don’t know it is an orange, they will think it is a lemon, because the limonenes in the skin will have increased the aroma and it will mess with our brains.

At the event, Barham said they would play with this idea and pair foods at different temperatures with different champagnes. All very exciting…but what did I think?

We started with a foie gras topped with a peach jelly and served with one cold and one hot spoon. It was paired with the G.H. Mumm Demi Sec. The base was light and airy, while a general sweetness flowed throughout. It was delicious but – to the disappointment of Barham I was one of the tasters that preferred eating it with a hot spoon – apparently, the cold one was supposed to work better. Oops!

Foie gras avec peach jelly

Then came the prawn, sweet corn and pine nut jelly. There were two: one served at 8 degrees, the other at 60. The cold one was too jellied for my liking (I hate jelly at the best of times) but the hot one was softer, with less of an intense prawn hit that I found in its cooler companion. I thought the saltiness paired perfectly with the G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, bringing out a slight minerality in the flavour of the champagne.

A toasted brioche that stole my heart...

We finished with two tiny toasted brioche (one slightly warmed, the other hot) with Tunworth cheese & Marmite butter. I was dreading this one – I hate jelly but I REALLY hate Marmite. As fate would have it though, I loved this. I think the Marmite was in a sufficiently small dose to be allowable. The slightly warmed version wasn’t anything to write home about but the hot one was gorgeous. I recommend pairing these ingredients at home. It was served with the G.H. Mumm Cuvee R. Lalou 1999 (my favourite of the day).

So, did the pleasure meter extend to where I hoped it would with this event?

It was intriguing and I was lucky to try some fantastic pairings made by such a renowned scientist and extraordinary chefs. But, I think Pine had a point – pleasure is fantastic, but anticipating it can sometimes be more enjoyable than the final pay-off.

One Response to “Champagne Pleasure”

  1. Jason B. Standing February 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Just out of interest, do you like anchovy?

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