We elephant when we eat

The world loves team sports. Most of which involve a ball. A ball which passes between players in the pursuit of a goal. Through the hoop, into the end zone, or in the box. We count points. We hold our breath. We cheer for victory or groan in defeat.
Photo courtesy of Fairfield Citizen

Photo courtesy of Fairfield Citizen

Skilled players see the ball with their hands. They pass effortlessly among their team. It’s a conversation between cohorts. Message in. Message out. When play is good we witness the flow of energy. The opposing team rushes to interrupt the dialogue. They aim to have a conversation of their own.

Mature athletes do not think about their actions. Their movements spring from muscle memory. Just as we do not think about how to forms words. It just happens.

Elephants talk through their trunks. Not the snorting, wheezing way. They communicate through touch. Nerve endings are dense on the surface area. So dense that an elephant can detect grooves 0.25 mm wide according to ElephantVoices.org.

Pacinian corpuscles are what give these trunks the feelings humans have in their fingertips. They detect surface area (rough vs. smooth) and vibrations.

We see the trunk as a hose for breathing. And as a prehensile appendage for work. An elephant lifts and moves items in their universe.

Photo courtesy of Biomimetiks

Photo courtesy of Biomimetiks

It also is the instrument of affection. Mature elephants mourn the passing of tribe members by stroking the deceased. By caressing the skull. By reading the tusks like brail.

Human folk make use of their mouth to speak their mind. Words are the ball that passes from pitcher to catcher. Sounds are made with chewed air. The tongue compressing exhalations around the teeth. Distinct sounds born by complex oral mechanics.  Sounds form into words and words into sentences the way notes form symphonies.

With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.  –Proverbs 25:15

Some might say that the tongue is man’s most dangerous weapon.

And yet the tongue is more than an launch pad for ideas. It’s just as much a receiver as it is a giver.

Babies notoriously pull any object within reach to their face. We explore the world by mouthing. All new parents are amazed and bewildered by this.

This primal act matures and becomes less obvious as we get older. We neglect the tactile discovery in the act of eating.

Through gustation and olfaction, we get brilliant ideas. A fine meal or wine fuels the mind as much as it feeds the body.

Mouthfeel wheel courtesy of Winepros of Australia. (click for larger image)

Mouthfeel wheel courtesy of Winepros of Australia. (click for larger image)

The food and wine industries work hard to break down not only the taxonomy for mouthfeel, but how to engineer specific effects.

A study conducted by the Department of Horticulture, Viticulture and Oenology and the Australian Wine Research Institute composed a dictionary of terms for the mouthfeel of red wine (see image above).  Descriptions of texture are categorized and sorted into a wheel not unlike a tasting wheel. Astringency, PH balance and tactile feel form the trunk of terms by which we get items names like suede, soapy, or tingle.

Tim Patterson of Wines and Vines, learned in his discussion with Russ Robins of Laffort USA that the mouthfeel of glycerol counteracts the harshness of alcohol or tannins. It may contribute to the notion of sweetness. In other words texture can trigger taste independent of chemical content.

Food scientists at packaged food companies labor to measure the human experience with physical measurements. They describe the qualities of the first bite and the subsequent breakdown of food. They admire aspects of mechanical properties (hardness, viscosity, brittleness, chewiness, gumminess, etc.)  and geometry (size and shape).

While industry chase the technology of polypeptides to enhance eater’s experience, grandmothers all over the world have mastered mouthfeel on their own.

Consider the Italian culture. The ingredients of dried pasta is semolina flour and water. No matter what the shape it takes, the recipe is the same.  Compare a box of spaghetti and ziti. The list is the identical.

So why is it that there are so many varieties?  Why is it that pasta comes in tubes, strands or bits.  Why is it twirled or straight? Ridged or smooth?

Pasta with sausage from Lupa

Pasta with sausage from Lupa

The answer is simple. Texture.

Teeny tiny varieties are for soups. Flat pasta for rich favors. Highly texture to trap thick sauces.

And while Italians have many rules about matching pasta with a sauce, the underlying principles remain elusive.

Take for example pesto.  The green sauce of basil leaves and pine nuts forged under mortar and pestle. It originates from the coastal region of the North East Italy. Towns like Liguria, La Spezia or Genoa are ground zero for pesto.

Pasta Recipes by Italians argue that farfalle should match pesto. Yet Lidia Bistianich of PBS fame, argues that these bow ties must marry rich, chunky sauces.

Tube pasta with fava bean powder from A16

Tube pasta with fava bean powder from A16

Chefs from A16 in San Francisco bring broad short tube pasta together with fava bean powder and shaved sheep’s milk cheese. The result is chewy and musty.  An earthly dance with sharp sweet nutty undertones from the Pecorino.
Pasta Bolognese from Gusto

Pasta Bolognese from Gusto

Cast your gaze to Pasta Bolognese from Gusto in Austin.  The dish is oppulent true to the original from Bologna.  Hearty beef flavors bouyed by thick tomato sauce tuck in between broad noodles.
Pappardelle with rabbit raghu

Pappardelle with rabbit raghu

Cotogna would send us in to the forest with the same noodle to dine hunter style. Instead of ground beef would be shredded rabbit.  The sauce more angelic than earthy.
Rotini alla crema from Gusto

Torchetti alla crema from Gusto

Gusto plays with convention with Torchetti alla Crema.  This cream sauce is trapped among the folds of this twisted handerchief. Sliced grilled chicken, fresh spinach and toasted walnuts add intrigue and sophistication.

Far different than Mario Batali’s treatment of an open, semi-curled pasta (far above). Crumbled pork sausage take center stage with the noodles playing a complementary role. Olive oil adds acidity, glycerin and grassy notes which are only augmented by the addition of fresh cut parsley.

When you are ready to explore new pasta shapes, refer to Pasta Recipes by Italians. You will be amazed at the ingenuity expressed as shapes.

Leave it to the Sicilians to have a pasta named as priest stranglers (strozzapreti). Trenne named for train tracks. Radiatore for looking like little radiators. Or Anelletti (little “O’s”) which no doubt are the magic behind Spaghetti-O’s.

For the traditions of Italy, look no further than Giugliano Bugialli. Or follow Lidia online or in her television show. They will teach the touch of a grandmothers hand. They are the ambassadors to the traditions of the past.

But if you take away one thing, remember that when you cook you are creating a conversation. From your finger tips to their mind. You throw, they catch.

You don’t have to be an elephant to remember this.

Live, love, eat.

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