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A year of European Taste

This summer, a smorgasbord of food bloggers from across Europe gathered on a rooftop terrace at EXPO in Milan. Top Italian chef Stefania Corrado was cooking, sharing round delicious appetisers from her latest book. Meanwhile, top wine and beer experts swirled, slurped and sipped to decide what the best-selling drinks from a range of European countries say about the continent's palates.

 

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Friends of Glass Taste Maker Workshop

They were all were there as part of a campaign organised by Friends of Glass, an international non-profit association started in 2008. They raise awareness of one of our oldest and most versatile materials: glass. It’s an ideal packaging for food, because it preserves flavour so well.

A selection of big names from across Europe got involved with the project. The first stage was to gather together taste makers in Brussels, where they tried the top olive oil, tomato sauce, wine, beer and water from five countries, to see which tastes prevail in different countries.

They included Jane Peyton, the UK’s first beer sommelier of the year, who arrived with a suitcase full of the UK’s best-loved brews. From Spain, Guillermo Cruz was on hand: selected as the country’s top Sommelier in 2014, he uses his skills at cult restaurant Mugaritz to pair wines with high-concept dishes like edible stones or candy caviar. It wasn’t just about drinks though; top Belgian chef Christophe Baert joined the panel, as did Italian nutritionist Professor Giorgio Calabrese.

At the workshop in Brussels, they teamed up with fellow award-winning sommeliers Caroline Furstoss, from France, Arno Steguweit from Germany and Sweden’s Andreas Larsson, who is also the wine director of PM & Vänner. As trends emerged over the morning, intense debates were held about the nature of taste. One of the options, labelled “bland” on the flavour chart, was really the taste known as “savoury” or “umami,” the experts decided. That’s the pleasingly salty, glutamate taste which Europeans have loved since Roman times, when it was typified by garum, a fermented fish sauce.

After the experts, it was over to the consumers. A few months later at the event in Milan, the food bloggers tapped their preferences into an iPad. As the sun set, they tried the best of Italian food, discussed the EXPO pavilions, and learnt about how glass is the best option for keeping flavours from around the whole world intact. Next, the campaign went online: over 29,000 people took part in the survey to #mapyourtaste, answering questions on everything from how they start their day (coffee, please!) to their favourite pickle.

Friends of Glass used their social media presence to get Europeans from over 30 countries tweeting, sharing the survey, and discussing their favourite tastes. The results were intriguing: modern Europe definitely appreciates vibrant, spicy flavours: the love of curry in the UK is one example, while many soups and stews rely on the herbs and spices that came to the continent from the East.

Still, the results show the top taste was bland, savoury umami goodness, followed by bitter and sweet. And who knew 20% of Europeans love pickled watermelon rind? However you say it, and whatever your favourite drink is, Bon Appetit!

Frances Robinson is a freelance journalist and moderator who has covered a range of food and wine related stories. She worked as a moderator for Friends of Glass at events in Brussels and Milan.