I – a keen cook and keener eater- have long held the view that there is a considerable contextual element to taste. By that I do not merely mean that the table can be well dressed in a pleasant place and the food set in an attractive way, although this is nice (and something that I tend to be relatively poor at). My point is with the time and place where food is eaten.
Many people surely have experienced the delights of a local specialty that, once brought back home, simply does not have the same appeal. Examples abound –Ouzo is not the same away from the Aegean Sea, mulled beer must be had in wintery Poland, hibiscus tea feels out of place in Europe and, while whisky will be enjoyed at home, it will taste very different in a remote pub at the end of a windy trek in the Highlands.
I thought of that when reflecting that a cherry tomato from the nearby organic farm wrapped in a basil leaf grown in the garden we were staying in, with a gulp of a local red wine was just about the ultimate delicacy. It is to an extent, of course –but I don’t expect that it will be quite the same next time I try it at home. Of course, part of that will be due to the fact that I will probably not easily source quite the same tomatoes and basil in London. On the other hand, the wine would have been far less likely to pass my usual acquisition criteria had it not been local.
But give me the very same combination, and I still don’t expect that it will bring anywhere near the same sensations as in that hazy afternoon, where you could feel on your skin the very sunshine that had given the food so much taste, while enjoying enough vine shade to curb the heat, hearing the constant songs of the cicadas, and seeing the colours of the sensually shaped hills, adorned with their typical, narrow pine trees.
Tuscany has much to see and visit –which we did, to an extent, taking care to keep it manageable for the kids. Crucially, it is enjoyable by itself. It is a great place to simply be. In that, it is wonderfully in harmony with Italian food, which is so often incredibly simple, a collection of epitomes of its ingredients. Like a nice recording of a concert, you can take some very pleasant memories home; the direct experience is what brings out all the harmony.