Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium

Tasting as professional practice and everyday experience

By Kristian Mortensen & Johannes Wagner, University of Southern Denmark

Over approximately the last 20 years, the culinary scenery in Denmark has radically changed.  The number of gourmet restaurants has exploded with the late NOMA as its figurehead. Fine food fairs with tasting of chocolate, cheese, coffee, wine, whisky etc. draw large crowds. Gin, wine or craft beer bars spring up in the gentrified zones of the bigger cities.  What could be called ‘taste refinement’ can also be observed globally as one of the cultural forms in 21st century urbanity.

This paper has a phenomenological and ethnomethodological research interest. We are interested in how taste, as an intrinsic subjective experience, is shared and transformed in and by social interaction. We are likewise interested in the practices and procedures used by professional tasters when describing taste and how these procedures trickle down into the mundane world of ‘amateurs.’

In professional settings, tasting has developed into a sophisticated skill that through standardized practices strives at objectivizing the tasting experience and description. Formulations of taste are highly nuanced and often structured around material artifacts such as tasting wheels and other graphic representation of what is deemed as relevant terminology. On the other hand, lay tasting is often accompanied by assessments (e.g., ‘delicious’, ‘yummy’) and embedded within expressions of other sensory experiences (‘it looks great’).

Food fairs and exhibitions bring together professional tasters (and/or sellers) and non-professional visitors. The aim is typically to introduce the visitors to the complexity of e.g. beer by making them aware of, recognize and describe what for them are previously unrecognized taste experiences.

The paper will discuss two video-recorded extracts from settings in which professionals and amateurs taste together. The first one is from a coffee tasting seminar where participants are instructed in the ways of tasting coffee. The second one is from public whisky and gin tasting at a food fair. We focus on the practices through which taste is described, negotiated and agreed upon, and how the tasting activity is done in and through participants’ verbal and embodied actions as sequentially organized social practices for sense-making.