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A sensory experience to make the tastebuds sing

The Forager

What is the sound of sweet – or salt? What music might enhance the enjoyment of a decadent creamy cheese or a ripe Roquefort? These kinds of questions have driven Valerie Henbest to devise a series of sensory events debuting at the Adelaide French Festival.

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“It stems from 10 years of doing cheese and wine classes,” says French-Australian cheese expert and music lover Henbest, of The Smelly Cheese Shop.

“More and more I realised that for this experience to be super successful, I needed to help the people that join me engage with all their senses … we don’t do that very much.

“The thing that troubled me the most was that listening wasn’t such an obvious thing to engage when you are eating and drinking.”

During the Adelaide French Festival next month, Henbest will present two events: Sonic Seasoning, which will pair cheeses and wine with music played by Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet, and Le Salon, which will combine cheese, chocolate, Champagne and opera.

Henbest, who studied music as a young person in France and has had a lifelong love of cheese, says the experiences enable her to “explore everything that is close to my heart” and she hopes they are just the beginning of what will become a series of events presented in collaboration with different SA artists.

Most people, she says, will recognise that the sound of a Champagne cork popping instantly engages their brain in anticipation of “something festive or interesting or exciting”, but she wants to take this idea much further.

For Sonic Seasoning, she is working with members of the The Zephyr Quartet to match French songs with different types of cheese.

A light and zingy goat cheese, for example, can evoke spring and would work well with an exhilarating piece of music, while a hard cheese from a mountainous area might trigger thoughts of an alpine picnic, which for Henbest evokes Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony.

Valerie Henbest

“You close your eyes and think, ‘What does that sound like?’

“With chance, we can all end up in the right paddock with the right weather and the right altitude!

“It’s a bit out there… but it’s not too hard to get people to play that game.”

To be held on the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Dunstan Playhouse Stage on January 13, Sonic Seasoning will feature five pieces of music to accompany five French cheeses – a triple cream, a goat cheese, a Comté (semi-hard cheese), an Affidélice (washed rind) and a Roquefort – and five French wines including Pol Roger Champagne and a red and white from the Côtes du Rhône.

Le Salon, in the Festival Centre’s Space Theatre on January 11, will revisit the 18th-century French concept of the salon, a type of social gathering for which musicians and poets were commissioned to entertain the guests as they shared ideas and indulged in fine cuisine.

The Adelaide event will feature three singers from the State Opera and a pianist on what promises to be a “journey to awaken the senses” as guests enjoy Champagne, French cheeses, and handmade chocolate from Steven ter Horst Chocolatier.

“It (the salon) was the beginning of cultural hubs, so for me part of the idea is to get people to reconnect and share ideas and slow down,” Henbest says.

Le Salon has proven so popular that tickets have already sold out, but she assures The Forager there will be more to come.

As for Henbest’s own favourite food and music sensory experience? A passionate piece of music from Bizet’s opera Carmen teamed with a “pungent, complex and decadent” Époisses de Bourgogne washed-rind cheese and a delicious Tempranillo.

Sonic Seasoning and Le Salon are part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Adelaide French Festival, which will take place from January 11-13. See the full program here.

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