Updated: Jan 28, 2020
Did you know that your nose and therefore your olfactory system is the only sense that has direct access to the emotions in your brain?
It is in the historic center of Paris that I find myself strolling along the banks of the Seine. A soft atmosphere reigns, I recognize the good vibes of small Parisian cafes with the famous marble bistro tables on the terraces and surrounded by the rattan chairs. On the seats are displayed the blankets to warm customers coming to enjoy their coffee in the middle of winter. The sky is blue, the sun embellishes the light on all these Haussmannian white stone facades. I join the Hotel de ville street in the 4th district of Paris. At number 56 is located a unique school in the world. It’s obviously a French idea to create such an original place: a school dedicated to the nose or L'Ecole du Nez in French, created by Jean Lenoir, a famous specialist in the world of wine and passionate about the powers of our senses and in particular our olfactory capacity. This trainer-expert in oenology originating from Burgundy, launched the idea in 1978 by creating an aroma masterkit for wine lovers and wine professionals in order to train their nose to smell and develop aroma recognition. Then followed the launch of this famous school of the nose offering a deep professional training, integrating both theory and practice.
Today, it is a pleasure to return to school in the heart of science and attend this training booked months before. This module, entitled "Neuroenology", approaches the world of wine from another angle, using a scientific approach around our olfactory sense, alongside Gabriel Lepousez, researcher in the Perception and Memory Unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
I find myself in this small group of ten people, coming from different backgrounds. Some, like me, are changing job career and came here with a thirst to learn more and more about the thousand and one facets of wine. Others are wine merchants, restaurant owners, sommeliers, business creators. They all seem so much in love with this wine universe. The beauty of wine is that it evolves every day. Our relationship with it changes, our emotions adapt to the context, and our senses still need to be educated ... We are thus brought together in a pleasant setting that reflects Paris history : beautiful vaulted cellars, it used to be the place of the commandery of the Templars from Paris in the 13th century! The rich history of these cellars is interesting. The cellars communicate with the neighbours on both sides, and luckily, there is a coffee roaster nearby. Sometimes, between two explanations given by Gabriel, one can feel the pleasant aromas of roasted coffee rising in the cellar room. We are following with great attention the words of Gabriel who shares with us all his passion on the research of the mechanisms by which our perception of an odour can be strongly influenced by the environment of a situation, by our experience but also by our mood of the day and still by many other factors. Research has been going on for years and he explains that scientists continue to discover interesting things about our senses, our emotions and our memory.
We are absorbed by the explanations provided by Gabriel, a personality both scientific and animated by the emotion around the "art" of wine tasting. This much less academic and more science-based form of learning allows us to emerge a desire to exploit our own nose even more. This is how I learned that our nose is able to distinguish 1000 billion odours while our eyes are able to discern only a million colours.
Thus, smelling requires daily practicing and training of our brain cells. By working on this sense, our olfactory memory creates a library or a map of odours. So, it is good to keep our memory up! Indeed, it is a complete learning that us, as Civilized people, need to redevelop in our fast paced world in which we have forgotten this awareness of our olfactory capacities, not deploying our basic sensory reflexes… By concentrating only on this sense, we deploy with more power our olfactory capacity, it is thus the most beautiful gift that we can give to a child than to encourage him/her to smell a maximum of odours, aromatic plants, spices, flowers, gardens, cooking meals ... These exercises allow a real awareness of oneself and the capacities of our body (and our brain!).
The entertaining aroma recognition exercises carried out throughout the training made us work on the distinction of artificial flavours from natural flavours but also as the training progressed, on their classification by family: vegetal, floral, fruity, spicy… The scientific approach to the chemistry of aromas makes us understand the factors influencing the complexity of certain odours and consequently the effects of certain processes such as cooking, fermentation or even oxidation on the complexity of these volatile molecules. After such learning, we can only rush home to test the influence of the infinite number of external factors on our olfactory perception: food pairing using the influence of flavours such as salt, acid, sweet, umami; changes in the environment like light and colours; temperature changes; the context of the tasting; the music… All these elements will make you perceive your tasting differently. The sight of everything takes precedence over the olfactory system and influences our brain by anticipation of our judgment on what we will taste. This is why it is fun to play on removing this major sense to better appreciate and develop that olfactory sense! Indeed, closing the eyes increases the availability of the other senses through a greater activity in the olfactory / gustatory cortex (in our brain). Our oral apparatus, which is small compared to the whole of our body, represents 20% of sensory sensors!
2% of our genes are dedicated to the olfactory sense. So, ready to challenge your 5 to 10,000 taste buds from your mouth, reaching your nose afterwards?
These are entertaining workshops around your senses based on this approach described above that I offer in your group activities! So do not hesitate to contact me to organize your next session (trainings, team buildings, seminars around self awareness/wine tasting/well-being). Tailored to your needs, in France and in Europe, and even further!
>> La Petite Nénette at +33 (0) 6 81 92 01 55 or firstname.lastname@example.org