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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Cheeses, Chocolates, And Wildflowers

Like the Syrah grape leaves that wrap a wheel of Rogue River Blue cheese, our taste buds, leaf-shaped on the tongue, wrap around the cheese as we put it in our mouths. Then, like the judges at the 2012 World Cheese Awards, who rated Rogue River Blue one of the sixteen best cheeses in the world, we might say we could “sense the cows and the grass in the cheese.” One of the best tastes my tongue ever wrapped around was fresh goat’s milk in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, where I met a young couple backpacking with their herd of goats. I emptied my water bottle so they could fill it with milk, the freshest, most delicious milk I have ever tasted. I could sense in it the wildflowers and shrubs of the Trinities.

Cheese judges talk about a cheese’s “robustness” or “fruitiness,” but they also might say one cheese is “come-hithery” and another “like a running river.” One judge at the 2012 awards, a Frenchman, tried to describe a cheese with some spluttered adjectives and metaphors in awkward English before giving up and resorting to French. “C’est mon coeur qui parle,” he said: It’s my heart that speaks. It’s what we all know to be true about taste. We try to give reasons for liking something, but in the end it isn’t fruitiness or robustness that makes a difference when the mouth wraps around a taste. It’s something the heart recognizes. We know we like something because the heart tells us so.

It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Before my sister’s first husband asked her to marry him, he asked me if she could cook. She couldn’t, but he married her anyway. The marriage didn’t last long.

The way to any heart is through the palate. My sister’s second husband happily does all the cooking. The marriage is going strong into old age. If I owe apologies or thanks, I’ll make cookies. In the South when I was growing up, we said, “If I’d known you were comin’, I’d a-baked a cake.” When I know you’re coming, I’ll bake a cake, maybe an orange-honey cake because it’s so beautiful, topped with golden circles of orange slices. But it isn’t enough for the cake to sit there looking pretty. It has to be tasted if you want to touch the heart that went into the making. A way to a woman’s heart is to like her cooking.

Or to give her chocolates. One version of the genie-in-a-bottle joke says that the man given three wishes wished first for a million dollars. Poof! there it was. Then he wished for a convertible. Poof! there was a convertible. Having the money and the car, he then wished to be irresistible to all women. Poof! he turned into a box of chocolate.

True enough. Chocolate speaks for the heart. “I love you. See? I brought you chocolates.” But any good food can speak for the heart. Maybe a wedge of Rogue River Blue would work as well. “Here, sweetheart. Have a taste. C’est mon coeur qui parle.”

Diana Coogle has been a JPR commentator for more than twenty years. She recently wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Old English poetry and is currently working on a paintings-and-essays book with Applegate artist Barbara Kostal. Her first book of collected commentaries was an Oregon Book Award finalist. Her latest book, co-authored with Janeen Sathre, is Favorite Hikes of the Applegate: A Trail Guide with Stories and Histories.