Fragrant Roots and Neroli Macaroons

essential oil macaroonsThe British Society of Perfumers Annual One Day Symposium was held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester again this May and had an accidental theme of fragrant roots – with two of the presentations focusing on a different kind of scented root accord unbeknownst to one another. One of the suppliers, Albert Vieille, also went beyond scent and served us delicious macaroons flavoured with essential oils of neroli, rose and mandarin which were perfectly accompanied by the Arabica Coffee Salvador alcoholic extract we smelled alongside them.

There is a perceived danger to hosting any kind of raw material-focused conference on a World Perfumery Congress year because suppliers will inevitably want to save their new launches for that (who wouldn’t?), but this did not cause any difficulties for the BSP ODS as every session managed to find ways to showcase existing materials, new production methods, or to introduce new variants to the UK market. One of the best things about going to these is the group smelling – sitting at a table (or walking around interactive demo sessions) with seasoned perfumers and sharing observations is like gold dust; you learn so much and find all kinds of inspiration and insight.

Wolfgang from BASF showed us a very well-known material, DL-menthol, which he nevertheless felt was unfairly neglected in perfume creations, and called it “the under-estimated baby of the industry.” His quips and style had the room guffawing away and every time I hear him give a presentation I feel a little bit wistful that he didn’t become a chemistry teacher because he would have inspired generations. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t because now I get to listen to his presentations at BSP events instead. We also smelled dihydrorosan in demo formulas – it really boosted fruity notes in unexpected ways.

Symrise took us through an interactive presentation where tables were laden with demo formulas showing off Jacinthaflor – an interesting white floral-type material which can bring indolic aspects to fragrances without the discolouration issues, Nerolione – as the name suggests, a high-impact ingredient for orange blossom creations and Irisnitrile – a diffusive iris note booster. I have come to accept that I adore iris scents of all kinds (am yet to encounter one that I don’t love) and the accords we experienced here had interesting cucumber and fresh facets and bloom which can sometimes lack from iris-type notes. It seems clever use of Irisnitrile can really add extra dimension to these accords.

If you think you know what cedarwood should smell like, I wish I could send you some of the Firmenich cedarwood oil Alaska through the screen because it took many of us by surprise – a sparkling grapefruit top with lots of smoky and aromatic nuances and no ‘pencil shavings’ feel. I’d love to create a masculine scent just around this material and expand every aspect. We were also shown Pepper Sichuan supercritical fluid extraction, Lilyflore, Ambrox Super and a Honey Signature base which is a blend of natural materials and synthetic captives. The honey note was so realistic that some visitors were overheard asking for a slice of toast to go with it.

And, to the next fragrant root – vetiver. Emerald Kalama Chemical showed us Azuril, Osyrol and Vetimoss (there is a clue in the molecule names to which one went into the vetiver accord) and we smelled demo formulas including blackwood and fantasy citrus. Vetiver is another one of my absolute favourite smells and I’d love to get a chance to experiment with vetimoss – there were many nuances besides straight-up vetiver that came out at me from the demo.

Pierre rolling out the red carpet

I caught Pierre personally rolling out the red carpet for the winner just before the gala dinner

If any of you follow Pierre the Perfumer on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be up to mischief at an entirely serious event such as the annual Perfumery Excellence Awards, and, indeed, this year he launched a whole new award: “Pierre the Perfumer Award for Most Daring Fragrance (in any category)”. The idea being that at least one of the awards should be for risk-taking in fragrance creation; putting products on the market with scents that have the potential to be divisive (many legends have been born from love-or-hate fragrances; even entire fragrance families). We asked our members to nominate and vote for all the awards in advance of the symposium which meant the awards could be engraved in time for the gala dinner. Want to know who won? Check out the winners at P&F online.

 

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Easter Sundae Interlude

You’ll forgive me for the pun once I share the recipe for this Easter-themed chocolate sundae with you. It combines the tart juicyness of pears with chocolate liqueur and malted chocolate.

Green & Blacks chocolate ice cream has a slightly malted flavour and goes particularly well here. My favourite chocolate liqueur is the Mozart one but I had an unopened bottle of Bailey’s limited edition chocolate liqueur here instead, so that’s what I used (and can report that it was very tasty in this context indeed).

You need pear quarters in fruit juice (or halves, then cut them to smaller pieces yourself), chocolate ice cream, chocolate liqueur (chocolate sauce if making for kids or alcohol-free friends), good-quality whipped cream, something crunchy on top (I used edible golden flakes to evoke the colours of white daffodils) and some kind of chocolate wafer (mine was a Malteaster Bunny because Easter Sunday).

1. Pick out four pear quarters from the juice, drain, place in a fanned shape at the bottom of the sundae glass.
2. Pour chocolate liqueur or sauce on top until the pears are covered
3. Add two scoops of chocolate ice cream
4. Add whipped cream
5. Add gold flakes and bunny

Regular readers know that I have a bit of a thing about ice cream (we do go to Fortnum’s on the perfume tours a lot and I enjoy making sundaes for visitors). Here’s a lemon meringue recipe if you’re looking for more.

Happy Easter!

Aino’s Swede Casserole

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I was asked to rummage through my Christmas smell memories for the Scented Letter this month and in doing so, also rummaged through every old photo album I have here with me in the UK.

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Although I did find a few Christmas photos that weren’t completely humiliating, what I actually ended up spending more time on, were pictures of my maternal grandmother Aino, and of us together.

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Aino grew vegetables, berries and flowers at our summer cottage and she adored flowers in particular.

We had dog rose, jasmine, pansies, lilies, geraniums and many more in abundance in every available spot. It’s no wonder that my first word was “kukka” (Finnish for “flower” – reportedly uttered as I went for Aino’s pansy border).

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As soon as I could manage it, Aino took me along for her walks to gather wild flowers and that became a kind of tradition over the years.
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The teenage me would kill me for posting this.

Aino was a Karelian refugee who came over to Finland at the age of 2 and lived at a time when one had to know how to do everything from scratch. Sometimes we don’t realise how spoiled we are.

She taught me how to make Karelian pasties, sourdough rye bread and many basic Finnish dishes. Many of these lessons took place at the summer cottage where we did not have electricity and the cooking was done on a wood-fired range and the bread was baked in the wood-heated oven at the sauna dressing room. I learned how to light the fires and brush out the coals and how dry birch bark makes the best kindling.

Aino’s cooking and baking wasn’t highly decorative but it was incredibly tasty. The post-war mentality of adding sugar, butter and cream to most things helped quite a bit there.

I still sometimes make the traditional Finnish Christmas dish lanttulaatikko (swede casserole), which used to be one of Aino’s masterpieces. My mother attempted to extract the recipe from her but Aino was not one for writing down instructions so the only way to save the recipe was to follow her and pay attention. Alas, my mother was not a detail person and the recipe she produced as a result of this exercise ended up somewhat chaotic and scribbled (main image). The various annotations in different colour pens are clarifications and dire warnings (“NOT TOO MUCH WATER!”) after years of attempts to get it right.

If you would like to have a go at making Aino’s lanttulaatikko, you’ll need a deep casserole dish and a large saucepan.

Aino’s lanttulaatikko

  • 2 medium swedes
  • A generous tablespoonful of wheat flour (or dried breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 100ml of syrup (the one we used is Dan Sukker golden syrup which is available here from Ocado)
  • 1/2 tsp of allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml of cream
  • 1 tbsp of butter

Chop the swedes and boil until cooked in little water. Add the salt to the cooking water. Mash the swedes in their water (careful not to have too much water). Add the flour and mix well. Then add the syrup and mix well – leave to sweeten for at least two hours (you can get the dish this far the night before and add the remaining ingredients and bake the following day. If you do this, lift the saucepan into the fridge for the  night. This is what I do and the extra sweetening time really helps).

Heat the oven to 150°C.

Add the remaining ingredients just before baking. Pour all of the mixture into the deep casserole dish. You can attempt to make some nice patterns with a fork on the surface if you’re feeling artistic. Bake for approximately two hours.

Goes extremely well with baked ham, roast chicken, sprouts and lingonberry jam.

 

Read this month’s Scented Letter for more: IMG_3094.PNG

A Moomin interlude

Finland moomins volatile fictionI’ve just had a wonderful two week holiday in my native Finland and returning to the UK after what was, apparently, the best weather for the whole summer has been quite the culture shock. It’s like being inside Tupperware here. Grey and moist. I had a bath yesterday morning, opened the window to ‘let the moisture out’, and the air got wetter.

The first week was gloriously sunny and spent at Villa Eino at Hawkhill Nature (which I can’t recommend enough – though take my recommendation with the disclaimer that these cottages at Nuuksio National Park are owned by my husband’s cousin). The water was warm enough for daily morning swims. We grilled sausage. Picked litres of bilberries (the smaller, purple-fleshed ‘wild blueberry’). Enjoyed many sauna sessions. Then my husband flew back home and I spent another week in Helsinki and Tikkurila meeting family and friends.

The markets and shops are bursting with fresh berries and mushrooms right now. Due to the late arrival of warm weather, we hit the bilberry season head on and the lingonberries should be arriving soon – lots of partially ripe berries everywhere. Lingonberry is not too dissimilar in flavour to the cranberry, but sharper. I really miss them over here (they go wonderfully well with meat and liver dishes, as well as baked into delicious pies). Finnish strawberries are wonderful and still available in abundance. They get the nightless nights of summer and have a muskier flavour (similar to the wild strawberry) than the British and Spanish varieties we eat over here. Chanterelles are another delicacy; my friend made a delicious sauce with chanterelle mushrooms in butter, served with new potatoes. Simple things like that – and the bread, the glorious variety of different kinds of bread – is what I miss most from Finland, food-wise. I also miss some of the junk foods and flavours from my childhood (meat ‘donuts’ filled with rice, onion and minced beef; pear flavour ice cream, Fazer chocolate).

The things to look out for when over there are all things textile design – Marimekko, Vallila and so on – and even normal supermarkets can have a lovely selection of home textiles. There are outlet stores with good discounts so if you get a bit of local guidance, you can make some great discoveries. Then there’s Iittala glass design and wooden jewellery, and Moomins everywhere, of course.

I brought back lots of books and sourdough rye bread and chocolate and they’ll keep me connected to Finland a little while longer. I’m already planning my next trip (which will probably be a family gathering in 2017 – and I might need to do two trips that year, seeing as the Helsinki WorldCon bid was successful!).

Pia’s (almost) annual perfume meet, tube strike edition

Valerie, Thomas and Freddie at Penhaligon's

Once upon a time I co-arranged the first UK Basenotes meet with Grant Osborne and a whole bunch of people came – many of whom became good friends. It’s the friends from that day and a few new ones each year who amble around London perfumeries with me. We also tend to indulge in nice things to eat – cake, afternoon tea, or exotic snacks (or lunch, ice cream, gin and chips like yesterday).

This year we changed the date from a Saturday in May to a Thursday in July because Valerie Cookie Queen Sperrer was going to be in London and we all wanted to meet her. To add to the serendipity, Odysseusm from Basenotes was in the UK all the way from Canada and I was so happy to have him join us.

Then the tube strike was announced. Irrespective of solidarity, the general reaction was very sweary. Of ALL days, it had to be the one that had been in the calendar for months AND could not be changed because we had more than one person from overseas! However, everyone shrugged it off. Ok, so there’s a strike – so.what.

We made our way in groups and alone to our first stop in Covent Garden by various means (mostly on foot) and actually, tube strike London was gloriously empty and quiet.

Covent Garden on tube strike dayWe also lucked out on the weather – warm, sunny; not too hot.

Nick Gilbert from Penhaligon’s had kindly agreed to host us in their basement and we spent the morning trashing it, more or less. Perfume bottles… perfume bottles everywhere…

Penhaligon's basementWe headed to Bloom afterwards and had a great time sniffing our way through scents and chatting. Had I known in advance that Antonio Gardoni from Bogue Profumo was going to be there at 4pm, we’d have arranged our visits another way, but our group was very good about going with the flow, so we just went to Bloom twice in one day. As you do.

Bloom Covent Garden

After our (first) Bloom visit, we had lunch at Bill’s in Covent Garden and I can’t recommend them highly enough after our seamlessly organised and tasty experience. They accomodated our large group very well and the food and service were both excellent. Will definitely be going there again!

Bills Covent GardenWe walked over to Fortnum & Mason because I wanted to take everyone to check out the revamped perfumery.

Our perfume meet group

Nick, Valerie, Freddie, Hannah, Grant, Pia, Thomas, Penny, Suzie, Steven, Samantha, Tara, Danny, Lisa, Andrew

Ice cream was also purchased (to go) from the Parlour (I had a blood orange sorbet which was perfect) and we walked back to Bloom to meet Antonio.

Ice cream at Fortnum's

Antonio is such a charismatic man that I think we all swooned a little bit… he let us smell various blends and components he uses for his perfumes which was an interesting insight into his process.

Antonio Gardoni

Some of us felt thirsty, so we headed to Nook and spent a couple of hours taking advantage of their two-for-one cocktail offer (I only had mocktails, by the way – the same can’t be said for the others…).

Strawberry mocktail

It was an absolutely fantastic day and I can’t wait to do it again next year (we’re also hoping to make some other trips in the future; tad more ambitious, but when there’s a will, there’s a way…)

Thank you to everyone who came!

Lemon Meringue Sundae Interlude

A delicious lemon meringue ice cream sundaeHere’s a recipe for a lemon meringue sundae I just whipped up. It’s been hot, sweaty and humid for a while and our patio door is still open at night; a brief few hours of cool breeze. Please note that I’m not complaining – last summer in Britain was like living underwater.

Lemon Meringue Sundae

Ingredients

  1. Limoncello
  2. Thin cut orange marmalade
  3. Good-quality lemon sorbet
  4. The best vanilla ice cream you can find
  5. Mini meringue shells
  6. Whipped cream and decorations to taste

Method

  1. Mix one part limoncello and two parts marmalade into a sauce
  2. Pour a spoonful of sauce at the bottom
  3. Place one scoop of lemon sorbet on top
  4. Place three mini meringue shells upside down on top of that
  5. Pour the rest of the sauce over the meringue shells
  6. Scoop out one more ball of lemon sorbet and place on top
  7. Scoop out a ball of vanilla and place next to it
  8. Top with whipped cream and decorations to taste
  9. Serve immediately

This is a deliciously tangy and refreshing dessert for hot days. Ideal perfume to wear whilst enjoying it: Eau de Shalimar.

Lemon_meringue_sundae_main_ingredientsI used Luxardo Limoncello, mini meringue shells, lemon sorbet and marmalade from Waitrose (but Sainsbury’s lemon sorbet is also good and any nice marmalade will do). Kelly’s clotted cream ice cream tastes very similar to home-made ice cream and suits this concept very well. You could also try anything that isn’t too heavily vanilla-flavoured; you’ll need something creamy.

The futility of perfume sales copy

I’m going to tell you a little story about a perfume that made me laugh out loud. It begins at Basenotes, where, through the kind actions of the endlessly generous perfume community, one can sometimes obtain samples as part of swaps and ’round robin’ parcels that were not asked for; just added for funsies. As part of such a parcel, I received a few Bond No9 samples a few years ago. Prior to sniffing them, I decided to look for the official descriptions of the scents (although I don’t always do this – depends if you want your imagination and olfaction to be primed by what you see and read). In this case, I did.

One of the samples was of a perfume called New Haarlem, described by Bond No9 like so:

Northbound with the A-train to cabaret-jazz club-central… a scent so brazen it was barely captured in a bottle. Molten liquefied swank with androgynous appeal, to wear after midnight, in — and on — hot-spots. Notes: Lavender, bergamot, green leaves, coffee, cedarwood, amber, vanilla, tonka, patchouli

Interesting, interesting. Swank, you say? A brazen, wild scent to wear after midnight, you say? The image that goes with it suggests a smoky jazz club in New York.

How do we smell things, exactly? I don’t mean the theory of olfaction (which is still debated about and not entirely set in stone), but how do we experience it? Well, we smell largely based on three things 1) how our olfactory genes have been expressed in each individual, 2) how our scent associations, starting from our mother’s diet while pregnant with us and continuing to develop through life experiences and cultural influences, shape our scent preferences and 3) how we are manipulated by colour, words, packaging, bottles, brand associations and circumstances in which we experience the smell.

The first two are usually the strongest of the three influences. Especially the second. So, to me, New Haarlem:

Finnish cinnamon and cardamom buns served with a cup of coffee, via Paulig.fi

Finnish cinnamon and cardamom buns served with a cup of coffee, via Paulig.fi

When I smelled the perfume, I burst out laughing. Jazz club in New York? A dangerous, androgynous midnight predator; out to sex you up? Naah. It was “kahvi ja pulla” (Finnish cinnamon and cardamom bun and coffee); the safest, most common, most pedestrian and comforting snack; the Finnish equivalent of tea and a biccie.

The overbearing impression is of sitting in a Finnish coffee shop – a very old-fashioned one at that – and smelling not only the bun you are about to take a bite out of, but the percolator coffee machine behind the counter, left on for a couple of hours too many with the coffee starting to burn and turn bitter. I see the wooden chairs and the gingham-style tablecloths. The metal wire stand with red-top tabloid newspapers by the till. The jugs of cream and milk by the counter.

When the scent developed, I started to think that maybe the coffee had been served with milk after all and I’d spilled some of it on my blouse. Maybe it had even been a new-fangled cappuchino? Maybe the cafe had been one of the modern ones in Helsinki. I was getting whiffs of that spilled-cappuchino for a couple of hours. The coffee note persists throughout the scent’s lifetime and the drydown warms into something still spicy, but less foody.

Did I mind that the scent didn’t match the – no doubt – carefully crafted marketing message and sales copy? Did I heck; when I got to visit New York, I made a point of popping into the Bond No9 boutique (even though I was clearly not their target market, judging by the coolness with which the sales assistants there treated me) and bought myself a big bottle of New Haarlem. Now I wear it when I get homesick for Finnish cafes and want to wear something that makes me smile.

Bond No9 boutique detail in New York

This shows that while it’s impossible to effectively sell a perfume without some kind of sales copy (or is it? At least for as long we won’t be able to smell through our computers it is); sales people shouldn’t worry if the customer’s impression of the scent is as far from the intended image as a Finnish coffee shop is from a jazz club in New York. This is also why cultural nose-calibration is quite a key issue in international perfumery; why perfumery schools are keen to get people from the target markets they are interested in (because what smells “fresh” in the USA might smell repulsive in China, or what smells like Christmas in Germany might smell of the dentist in the States). Is it possible to really influence people with perfume sales copy? Absolutely. But only when the copy has enough cross-over with the target audience’s imagination and scent associations – and the perfume itself.

If you get your perfume sales copy right, it will match the perfume and its target customers’ expectations fairly closely and if you get your sales and marketing team right, they will approach any views that differ with humour and honesty.