In her memoir Tender at the Bone, food critic Ruth Reichl alludes to the difficulty of describing taste:
“Lawrence Durrell,” I said, wondering it I was pronouncing the name right, “said that olives had a taste as old as cold water.” I rolled the musty pit around in my mouth, thinking that if I could come up with just one description as good I could call myself a writer.
There are very few poems that contain great descriptions of the sort Reichl calls for. A look through most food poetry anthologies will reveal poems that describe the way the poets feel when they eat certain foods, and poems that describe the way that food looks, and even the way it sounds. But very few poets, apparently, have written about the way that different foods taste.
Donald Hall, who grew up in Hamden, CT, is one of the few poets who has taken up this challenge. His poem “O Cheese” is one of the best food poems out there. It can be found in the book The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink by Kevin Young, and in this Huffington Post article by Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s Cheese– When Cheese Becomes Poetry , 3/11/13:
By Donald Hall
In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.