What is affluence? The quick answer, maybe even the traditional answer, would be to say that it is the ability to buy whatever one wants. Yet this answer begs the question of what one ought to want.
We live in an interesting time in which an economic downturn is intersecting with a greater consciousness on sustainability, changing the very meaning of luxury.
Wealth was once represented by plenty, even by corpulence. Each “cottage” in Newport, for example, rose larger than the last as each family, like a peacock displaying its feathers, showed off its wealth. This pattern was followed in the modern age by titans such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Larry Ellison of Oracle.
“Rubenesque” women were not only affluent enough to afford food but their figures also symbolized a lust to consume life, an immersion in all that life offers.
Yet today in western societies, obesity is seen as a medical condition, and ever larger homes and automobiles seem uncomfortably showy in an age in which so many have recently lost so much in the stock market or home equity. Besides, if one is socially conscious, the impact of a “McMansion” on the environment may make one hesitant to build such a home.
Yet if affluence doesn’t imply “more,” what does it imply? Today, increasingly, affluence implies less… but better. Better quality, better flavor, better for the world.
The zeitgeist has come to see excessive consumption as, at best, indicative of a lack of discipline and, often, as willfully indifferent to the strains of consumption on the environment.
It is in this milieu that specialty cheese has come to thrive. After all, even if a particular cheese is a bit pricey, one consumes only a tad of such a rich food, and so specialty cheese offers something delectable, yet affordable. The same goes for so many accompaniments. In this issue, you will read about a “cult” cabernet, a rarified honey and unusual finishing salts, but we just as well could have written about fine olives, specialty chocolates, incredible Ports, magnificent mustards and countless other affordable luxuries.
The luxury nature of these goods varies. They can be the highest quality or from unique places; they can be special because they carry a social or environmental pedigree, such a Fair Trade or organic certification. What unites these products, though, is that one consumes small amounts of them at one time and so they manage to be both luxurious and affordable.
So when you look at your specialty cheese counter, you need not be intimidated; there may be hundreds of different cheeses but you need just buy a small piece and try one. Dress it in a little olive oil, chocolate or honey. Then, next time, try another. Gradually, you will expand your palate and acquire an appreciation for the distinction between merely good and positively exquisite.
Gaining that awareness is another way of defining wealth. We here at Cheese Connoisseur are honored to help you on this journey.