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Being a Better Connoisseur

In food and drink, slowing down is extremely important. You want to expand your flavor vocabulary slowly, because a flavor vocabulary is just that. (Giovanni Vallido/The Telescope)

College should be a time of experimentation and experience, right? I should get out knowing a lot more about the world than when I went in, not only because I have taken a bunch of classes, but also because I have taken advantage of everything I can, right?

I’ve always been a pretty picky eater. I want to change that in college. I only just starting drinking coffee, drinking wine, trying curries, and eating cucumbers (which I never liked before — they’re OK!). The thing is, my college is way out in the wilderness, away from everything. It’s a good college town, but I have had my fill of food and drink that caters to college students, and the boring food from the dining hall. I want to put my picky eating habits behind me and become a connoisseur. How do I do that? Any tips?

You seem to have the right mindset. Now all you need are the methods. Fortunately, for you, the internet makes it easy to cultivate your tastes. We recommend a strategy that takes two things into account: process and access. Let’s talk about both.

The process you want to follow involves slowing down, and then refining your palate according to time-honored methods.

In food and drink, slowing down is extremely important. You want to expand your flavor vocabulary slowly, because a flavor vocabulary is just that: a vocabulary. It means that you pick up and define new flavors just like you pick up and define new words. If you have ever studied another language, you know that learning another language takes a long time. Well, flavor is a language, of sorts, and by slowing down and enjoying the differences between foods of the same variety, you will deepen your appreciation of how they differ.

But how do you learn to appreciate difference? Wine is perhaps the ultimate connoisseur beverage, so let’s begin with that. A barolo and a brunello, for instance, are both red wines, both from Italy, but made from different grapes. If you drink them now, you might not be able to notice the difference. But what if you had a different bottle of Italian wine every week? You would obviously enjoy them more than you might now, but just drinking lots of wine every week still does not a connoisseur make. If it did, everyone would leave college as a sommelier. What you have to do is follow up the willingness to expand your vocabulary with steps to explore intelligently.

Wine Folly published a beautiful nine-step guide to becoming a wine expert, and many of the steps that it outlines are true for anybody looking to become well-versed in foodstuffs. Those first three steps especially — developing your palate, trying “AHA!” varieties, searching for new favorites — apply to everything from pastas to mole sauces. First you familiarize yourself with the foods that exist, then you try the foods that break the rules, and then you expand into further categories, knowing the differences down to a granular level.

The steps we outlined above detail a process to become proficient in talking about almost every type of thing one can appreciate, from wines to coffees to cuts of beef. However, how do you then ensure that you can access the type of foodstuffs that will pull you out of your picky-eater rut? As with everything else, the answer can be found online. You will be saved by subscription boxes. Sussing out a great wine club or the best coffee subscription would allow you to get those things from the far corners of the globe that help you expand your palate. Not able to pay for a subscription service? Box subscriptions make great Christmas presents, especially if you’re on the receiving end. If your stated goal is diversifying your food interests, than you probably want to go as artistinal as possible.

As an ex-picky eater, you will have an advantage that people who have been more adventurous throughout their lives do not. You have not yet discovered so many good things in the world of food. Your palate is fresh and untouched. Counterintuitively, that means you have something unique to offer to your friends. Food and drink are, of course, best enjoyed with company.


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Being a Better Connoisseur