What the Olympics can teach us about how our brains work


If you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you probably recognize a couple faces – the “Stars” – but the rest of the faces blend into the background, unknown to us, unknown to most of the world, usually.

So why, then, by the end of the few weeks of competition, are we rooting for someone in particular? We feel like we know them, telling our friends, “oh, that’s the young woman (please note I didn’t say “girl”) from Idaho who is a lifelong vegan, remember? They had such an interesting story about her on the Today show this morning.” Or, “wasn’t that the athlete they said was the oldest guy on the slopes? Yeah, he said this would be his last Olympics ever! Remember we saw that segment on him the other day?”

And there you have it. The reason we remember things, people, events. Because of the story. It’s simple really, but if we take a moment to think about it, this can really be applied to all parts of life. 

(Please note that I cannot take full credit for the above idea. My good friend and partner in crime for Song & Tonic, Prairie Rose of Bit by a Fox, was talking about this the other day. I thought she was so spot-on, and so I started writing about it... so this article is basically in existence because of her ideas :)


I’ve been reading a fascinating book recently called “The Influential Mind” by Tali Sharot in which she argues, many times against her instincts as a neuroscientist, that numbers, facts, and data do next to nothing to change our minds. We live with our prior beliefs and naturally succumb to confirmation bias to support only the arguments we are predisposed to believe. This means we remain ensconced in our cocoon of a certain belief system surrounded by individuals who typically also subscribe to that belief system. We are very rarely encouraged or required to step out of it.

My incredibly brilliant and no-nonsense college career at Barnard College, one of the seven sisters, was instrumental in allowing me to identify and see past my biases and question my own perceptions. Yet this book has helped me re-realize that I certainly find myself falling into this trap, especially in today’s political and social climate.

But why am I even talking about all this? Because if you’re asking someone to shift their thinking and begin to incorporate your belief system, your product, your company, even just you as a person, telling them this with facts, numbers, and data may likely have a minimal impact. Turning those facts, numbers, and data into a story that the observer can take with them past the moment in which this information is shared will yield much more meaningful results, however.


Building a better cheese board with WineGoals’ Liz Marsh


Cheese is, hands down, one of my favorite food groups, and no party at my house is complete without a (practically overflowing) cheeseboard. Because of the wide array of different flavors of cheese out there, it can be confusing and overwhelming to create a cheese board. I recruited my good friend, Liz Marsh, founder of WineGoals and a certified wine and cheese expert herself, to share some of her tips to help create a diverse and delicious cheese plate, sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

How many cheeses should you include?


According to Liz: “For the perfect cheese tasting at home, I recommend six cheeses. You want to have at least one cheese from each milk type – goat, sheep, and cow – as well as a range of textures from soft to firm and strengths of flavor from mild and milky to bold and stinky.” Liz often includes an ash rind goat cheese like Valencay, which is a little different than your standard goat cheese option and a heavenly pairing with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

“There's always a double or triple creme on my board,” she adds. “Brillat-Savarin and Mt Tam are two crowd-pleasing go-tos. You'll also want to have a stinky washed rind cheese, but most of the time its bark is worse than its bite.”

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Appealing to the nose

Speaking of stinky cheese, don’t forget that the sense of smell plays a hugely important role in our appreciation of the food we eat. When building your cheese plate, take an extra moment or two really to think about the aromas of the cheeses you’re selecting. Pro tip: make sure to take cheese out of the fridge about an hour before serving, as cheeses show of their truest flavor and smells at room temperature.

One of Liz's favorites that you can find at most cheese counters is Taleggio. “It's just stinky enough,” she says, “but won't engulf the rest of your cheese plate in a cloud of delicious dirty gym socks cheese stank.” Gruyère or Comté are always received well, as is Spanish Manchego or a sheep’s milk Gouda. Liz adds, “I also like to include a bold flavored hard cheese like an aged Parmigiano Reggiano or a Clothbound Cheddar. Finish it off with a blue cheese and you've got your perfect cheese plate.”


For those who stick their noses up at blue cheese, Liz recommends just trying new ones… you may find one made just for you. The luxuriously creamy Italian cheese Gorgonzola Dolce is, as you may guess from the name, sweet and milky. Another trick is is to pair blue cheese with a dessert wine like Port or Banyuls. The combination actually tastes like sweet milk chocolate.

Engaging the eyes: presentation  

When it comes to presentation, the most important thing is to make sure your cheese plate doesn’t look crowded. Choose a board or platter that leaves room for eager hands.

“Slate cheese boards create a really beautiful color juxtaposition of the white cheeses against the black slates. It really just makes those cheeses pop, and makes you notice the variances in color between the different types of cheeses,” notes Liz. You’ll also want to assess whether you want your accoutrements to be on the same platter as your cheeses. If you do, you can either place them all to one side or distribute them in between the cheeses, which adds additional color and texture variety to the canvas. If not, put them into separate bowls and plates and display them around the board in an attractive manner.


Liz and I differ a bit on whether it’s a good idea to include nuts, fruits, and other bits and pieces on your cheese place. Liz recommends staying away from anything too sweet if you’re pairing with wine but I like to offer a variety of options including dried fruits and jams.

“The sweetness in fresh or dried fruits or honey can often make your wine taste more bitter and tannic,” Liz feels. Where we do agree is on the Marcona almond. These plump little Spanish almonds are fried and salted and have a more delicate, sweeter taste than typical almonds. They're particularly delicious with Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego and Roncal.

Pairing cheese and wine

Just like with your cheese selections, the key with pairing wines is experimentation. A good rule of thumb is to pair lighter flavored cheeses (goat cheese, younger Alpine cheeses) with white wines, and more flavorful and aged cheeses (cheddar, aged Swiss cheeses, and the rest of those “stinky” ones) with reds. Blue cheese is a challenge to pair pretty much across the board but try Rogue River blue with a good Willamette Pinot Noir.


It is said that the best wine pairing is the one you like the best, and the same goes for cheese boards. Take a chance and move away from your standard options. If you can move a little bit out of your comfort zone, you never know what you’ll find so go ahead, try out a new pairing. Let us know how it went by emailing us at info@fivesensestastings.com.

Liz Yale Marsh is the Founder of WINE GOALS, a wine education and events company based in Los Angeles. Because wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese, she also works as a cheese educator, and is always searching for those magic moments when a wine and cheese are enjoyed together and 1+1 equals 3.


Happy International Women's Day!

"All the weary mothers of the earth" by Joan Baez
2016 Feminist Party GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) by Sonja Madjevski
Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Dancing Goats Dairy
Dolores Huerta, Labor Activist

Joan Baez's is a voice I have known since my earliest days. The soft lilting of her voice soothes like a gentle balm and, once you've heard it, it becomes utterly unforgettable. You may also know her as a social activist, which she has been all her life. Her touching song, "All the weary mothers of the earth" speaks about mothers, of course, but also about workers, farmers, soldiers... those sometimes overlooked as merely cogs in the wheels of production. A beautiful melody with equally beautiful poetry. Make sure to spend time with her lyrics, too.

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"I approach winemaking the same way I approach writing. I can have a plan and a structure, but there's discovery along the way," says Sonja Madjevski of Casa Dumetz Wines. Sonja was a journalist before becoming a winemaker and still writes today. Apart from Casa Dumetz, however, which will focus on Pinot Noir moving forward, Sonja also runs two other brands: Clementine (for Rhöne wines) and The Feminist Party (for Grenache and Grenache-based wines). Impossible not to include this last brand in our International Women's Day pairing, right? You'll have a chance to try this outstanding wine on Sunday March 25th for our Women's History Month celebration as we hear from this powerful voice in the wine industry.

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I try not to include products in our pairings that are difficult to find but it was simply impossible for me, like above, not to include the Ruth Bader Ginsburg cheese in our pairing for this special day. Dancing Goats Dairy is fairly new and is located far away on the North Shore of Massachusetts, also selling only in that state. However, not only the name but the story behind the strong woman who created the company and the saucy blend of this cheese (a cow and goat Cheddar jack made with whole black peppercorns), should make for a pretty fantastic pairing. Let's hope this cheese and this wine find one another someday. 

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Though most of us have heard of César Chavez, fewer of us have heard of Dolores Huerta, most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the labor movement and in the struggle for workers' rights. Very much an orator and organizer, Dolores was known for her outspokenness on behalf of the downtrodden and underrepresented – Sí, se puede! – and we celebrate her life along with the lives of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Malala Yousafzai at the end of this month. We hope you will join us

For a fun and sexy Valentine's Day, try something DIY

When we think of taking our beloved out for the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner, we conjure up images of filet mignon, a bottle of bubbly, a gooey chocolate dessert and, next morning, a negative bank balance. If a splurge is what you need, by all means, go for it! We all need to pamper ourselves once in a while.


However, if you’re looking to do something different this year, maybe something a bit more low-key, we’d like to suggest that there’s nothing sexier or more fun than a DIY dinner starring cheese fondue. And – bonus – our menu won’t break the bank.

The food

Let’s talk practicality first. Fondue has four ingredients – cheese, flour, garlic, and wine or beer – plus the bread, veggies and/or fruit that you dip, so it’s one of the easiest dishes in the world to make. Depending on which cheeses you buy, this part may cost you a bit, but the other ingredients are cheap as chips, and you only need cooking wine or inexpensive beer.

Fondue also takes no time to make, so if you have other plans during the day or at the start of the evening, don’t worry, you won’t be spending hours in the kitchen. You can easily whip up a fondue in about 20 minutes from start to finish (and that includes taking some time for sips and kisses). It’s easy to clean up, too, which means you can either take care of the dishes at the end of the night without any fuss, or not feel bad if you want to leave them soaking until morning.

Lastly, a fondue pot is an essential to every household. They don’t cost much (you can get a decent machine for around $50 or a great one for $200), and they’re a wonderful choice for a cozy gathering around the dinner table when you have family or friends in town.

Is fondue sexy? They say the best part of sex is when you can laugh, and fondue is definitely a dish where you’ll be sharing some giggles with your cheese-loving dinner partner. From handling the awkward, long forks, to losing your bread in the lake of cheese, to those dangly bits of cheese hanging off your chin, fondue is a great way to have fun at the dinner table. And when that dangly bit of cheese does hang off one's chin, it’s the perfect opportunity to lean over and gently remove it from your lover’s face.

The wine

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Fondue is also a versatile dish for wine pairing. Whether you want to celebrate the night with some bubbly, ease in with a glass of white, go straight for the red or try all three, fondue is a dish you can pair with whatever you love the most.

A glass of chilled cava (Rimarts Brut Cava for about $18 is one of my favorites) will cut right through the fat in the cheese and provide a refreshing zing on your palate. You’ll want to stay away from full-bodied whites and opt instead for a dry Riesling (Trader Joe’s has a divine option, the Emma Reichart, for all of $5!) or a crisp sauvignon blanc. If you’re in the mood for red, again, avoid anything too heavy or aged, as it may overwhelm the flavors in the cheeses. Instead choose a pinot noir, grenache (or garnacha, if you’re looking at Spanish wines) or Valpolicella. Not as well known for its pinots as for sauvignon blanc, New Zealand produces some absolutely stunning pinot noirs. If you can find it and have a few extra dollars to spare, try something by Tom Block.

The music

And, for the crowning glory, the soundtrack to your special night! You could just search for “Love Songs” on Pandora; however, if you want something a bit more eclectic, head over to a very special hourlong soundtrack we created just for you. We’ve included music from a variety of genres to get you in the mood, everything from jazz to classical, tango to opera, blues to bluegrass. Enjoy!

Creamy, Crunchy, and Crispy

Piano Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel
2014 Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

Vacherousse d'Argental

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I have to start with the cheese this week because ZOMG, Vacherousse has changed my life! Ever since I first tasted it when someone brought it to my house (yes, I will love you forever!) I have been obsessed with this cheese. Vacherousse (real name Vacherousse d'Argental) is an ultra-smooth creamy cheese from the Lyonnais region of France. It's texture is almost that of thick clotted cream, and the flavor is bright and what I might call "welcoming." You really need to eat this cheese with a fresh, warm, crunchy baguette or similar bread. No crackers will do it justice, I'm afraid. The only place I have so far found this cheese in Los Angeles is at Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica but please let us know where else you find it!

Maurice Ravel is a composer of whom I've always been a bit intimidated. His music is not easy to comprehend or perform, but it is always full of character and meaning, and his Piano Concert in G major is no exception. Our version features pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a Frenchman from ... you guessed it, Lyon, where our cheese originates. Enjoy the soft and gentle beginning of the second movement – Adagio – to dive into the cheese and relish how the many textures play with one another in our pairing as they do throughout this concerto.


This wine is no shrinking violet! Bright and full of flavor, this lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Grove Mill Winery in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough is, like most, easy to drink and will pair well with many dishes.

The reason I chose this pairing is because even though the flavors in this wine are fairly bold, they won't overtake the cheese. The rich, creamy texture actually needs a bright and bold personality in its wine partner.

A great pairing!

A taste of San Francisco!

"I left my heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett
Sottomarino Lagrein
Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery

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Those who know me know that my heart belongs to the City of Angels. However, as the new year picks up speed, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of friends and colleagues up in the Bay Area. As I plan a trip up there a bit later in the spring, I'm reminded of some of my favorite tastes and sounds from up north.

We might not have known this song as well as we do now if radio show hosts in 1962 hadn't turned over one of their new records and started to play Side B. This song was originally the Side B to "Once Upon a Time" and ended up winning the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Treat yourself to the beauty of Tony Bennett's young voice with this version. I tried my own hand at it a while back, too.


The Sottomarino Lagrein is a hefty wine, and we don't blame you if you haven't heard of this variety before... we hadn't either! The grape is native to the Southern Tyrol area of Italy and can also be found in Australia and in a small area on California’s Central Coast. Brian Cain – named the “Cult winemaker of California” in 2008 – has created a beautiful wine here: dark and full-bodied but not overpowering. The wine introduces itself well, we sense some plot development and then a climax on the mid-palate, but some say the wine falls short of a grand resolution. What do you think?

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We are in love with this stinky/not-stinky cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. It's funny how something this pungent actually pairs well with a few different things: a big, hearty red such as the Lagrein, a sweet wine or port, or a hearty stout beer. This cheese was actually created by mistake – a pretty darn tasty one, though, if you ask us!