Earlier this week I was in Santa Monica engaging in the dark art of qualitative marketing research. (For more insight into marketing research, try Lynne’s shiny new blog, Marketing Analytics) While dining with my colleagues, I discovered that they had been having on ongoing discussion on foodie topics, and were eager to draw me into the symposium.

The questions came rapid-fire, each one positing gut-wrenching choices: “if you could have just one cheese for the rest of your life…” “what’s your favourite fruit?” “what’s the best seduction meal?” “what would be your last meal?” and so forth. I shot from the hip answering alternately thoughtfully and blithely, and then they unleashed the stumper – the question that was disturbing in its very implication.

Cheese or chocolate?

If starting right now – no last fling allowed – you had to give up one of those foods forever, which would it be? Each one has hundreds or even thousands of varieties and forms and applications. There’s chocolate in some of my favorite coffee drinks, and cheese in so many savory foods. For some, a dessert is incomplete without one or both. Chocolate cheesecake is off the table immediately. I waffled, I wavered, I changed the subject.

I told two friends about it recently, and they chose quickly but came down on opposite sides. One claimed a bit of lactose intolerance and the other pledged allegiance to the savory side of life. Others I’ve told, especially vegetarians, have been as worried by the question as I am.

I remember a few months back, twitter buddy @thespottedduck asked which four cheeses you would restrict yourself to for the rest of your life and had a hard time getting any takers to cut back to just four types, even with broad categories like “swiss” or “goat.” And similarly terrible to contemplate, a man in England raised over 1,000 pounds for charity by pledging to give up cheese for just one month. See the terrified reaction here by one bloke who has a list of top five European cheeses. He’s not cutting back to four anytime soon.

As a marketer, I’m all about forced ranking as a way to uncover preferences. As a businessman, I’m all about making tough choices to stay focused and productive. But as an eater, I’m just not sure I like thinking about this sort of thing.