November 1st, 2006
I spent a lot of time here over the last few days while I was participating in two SlowFood events in Torrino, Italy this past week: Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto. Food Olympics… Gustatory Tour de Force… neither of these come close to explaining these simultaneous events. Terra Madre is a conference designed to bring food producers, chefs, academics, food documentarians and press together to discuss large issues like food freedom and biodiversity, food safety, and food communities. The lineup of speakers is amazing and includes not only food visionaries (Carlo Petrini- founding father of SlowFood, Vandana Shiva- , and Michael Pollan- author of Omnivore’s Dilemma) but also many individual producers and food community organizers from around the world.
By the second or third day of Terra Madre, you are so entrenched that you aren’t even fully present to the miracle that is the entire event. You wander from a session about Honey where you hear producers from Russia, Italy, and Africa talk about their challenges and production methods to the session on GMO’s where you hear from Polish, Spanish, Central American and Italian experts. And all the while you are sporting a headset that magically translates every one of these speakers into English (or any of the 7 other languages avaialble on the dial).
At some point you take a break and meander across the walkway to Salone del Gusto. This is a serious food show with smaller scale producers from around the world offering their products for tasting and purchasing. It is totally overstimulating and forced me to really focus on just a few things rather than trying to see the entire show. It isn’t even overeating that slowed me down rather it was the throngs of people whose elbows seemed to get sharper as the days progressed.
The cheese aisles are incredible- yes there are multiple via dei formaggi. It was insanely pleasing to see such a broad range of Italian cheeses as this is one country whose cheeses I think are not done justice in the American market. We’re used to the basics- Gorgonzola, Parmiggiano, Mozzarella, Taleggio- and we miss out on the range of Robiolas (discs wrapped in all kinds of leaves), and the incredible mountain cheeses like Bitto and Bagoss, not to mention the three layered cheese called Montebore.
My favorite part of Salone (after cheese) was actually the SlowFood Presidia section. Presidia are small groups of artisan producers who come together to help restore food traditions and protect food production that is at risk. There were presidia from around the world sharing their wares. It was incredibly enjoyable because each booth had educational materials about their product from how it is made to who is making it. A number of booths focused on cured meats made from breeds of pig that were near extinction and are now being raised in traditional ways- out on pasture and not slaughtered until 14 months (pigs that make industrial prosciutto are slaughtered at 6 months). There were also black beans from Basque country, producers of wines made from rare grape varietals in France and Italy, and vanilla and red rice from Madagascar. In the cheese department there was no shortage of variety beginning with mixed milk (cow and sheep) cheese that is aged in a sack made from sheep skin in southern Bosnia, traditional cheddar producers from the Somerset region of England, thistle renneted Serpa cheeses from Portugal, Morlacco del Grappa- a cow milk cheese made during summer months in the mountainous areas and is one of the most divine things I’ve ever tasted… the list goes on.
I’m going to do another post later in the week about the American farmers and cheesemakers I met while I was there- some of them old friends and some new faces. Stay tuned.