AND THE SALONE DEL GUSTO
& COOKING ARTICLE
to the Salone del Gusto, it's a biannual quality food
extravaganza put on by Slowfood, an organization founded
in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, who was horrified by the opening
of the McDonald's under Rome's Spanish Steps (he's a
journalist and was working in Rome at the time). Mr.
Petrini was doing more than making a simple decision
to take tajarin (Piemontese taglierini) over burgers,
of course - the idea behind the movement is that people
should cultivate the Art of Living, savoring life and
the things that give it meaning and value. In other
words, enjoy genuine foods rather than industrial junk,
appreciate the history and culture of both where they
live and the places they visit, respect the environment
and our resources, avoid profit-driven biotech developments,
and so on.
this end Slowfood publishes an excellent series of regional
Italian cookbooks and travel guides, and will be expanding
to cover other countries too; they also have good books
on traditional cheeses, oils, beer, and other things,
and publish hotel and restaurant guides too. It's obvious
that a bunch of people in Bra, Mr. Petrini's home town,
couldn't hope to do this all on their own, and they
don't. Slowfood has established chapters called Condotte
throughout Italy and is exporting the concept elsewhere,
where the chapters are called Convivia; members pay
their dues and in exchange are kept informed of an astonishing
variety of enogastronomic initiatives, from tastings
of one sort or another, to hikes and outings, to special
dinners. At present there are about 400 chapters with
more than 60,000 members, in more than 35 countries,
and the thing seems poised to take off.
more information on the movement see http://www.slowfood.com.
The membership gives Slowfood the financial backing
necessary to do more than just publish guidebooks, and
this is where things get interesting. They are devoting
considerable energy to local specialties that are in
danger of dying out (in Italy now, but one can expect
them to export the concept), and are trying to support/save
them. Some of the specialties are simply obscure, for
example the Pitina, a kind of smoked meatball people
used to make in the Alpine valleys north of Pordenone
in Friuli when an animal died unexpectedly in an accident,
so as to preserve the meat. Now, with refrigeration
and such, making pitine is no longer necessary, but
they are a reminder of a more frugal way of life when
what now seem little things were instead very important.
Others are well known, though most people only get to
see the industrial versions.
example, factories in the Veneto region churn out huge
amounts of Asiago cheese, much of which is frankly insipid.
In the past Asiago was made in the malghe (singular
malga), the barns in the high alpine meadows where herders
would spend the summers with their cattle. Asiago d'Alpeggio,
the Asiago made with milk derived from mountain forage,
is a completely different cheese: rich, and extremely
complex. But it's a hard life staying up there for months
on end (few creature comforts of any kind, including
electricity in many cases), and as one producer said,
young people aren't interested in doing it unless they
can earn a decent living from it. As things stand individual
farmers cannot, so Slowfood is working to provide them
with incentives, and to explain to consumers why they
should be willing to pay more for a vastly superior
cheese, rather than buy the cheapest Asiago they can
find. Here, in addition to preserving a product, the
aim is to preserve a way of life and a region: if people
can no longer survive in the malghe, they will go elsewhere
and the land will return to nature. While some may argue
that this is not a bad thing, it would mean the loss
of a rural culture, and a way of life.
projects include protecting particular strains of plants
and animals (e.g. Albenga's purple asparagus, or Sardegna's
Sardo Modicana cattle, which are deep rust red and produce
the milk used to make Casizolu cheese), and foods or
techniques threatened by EEU bureaucrats (e.g. the spectacular
lard cured in the caves of Colonnata, which the EEU
health people have decided are unsanitary). All the
various preservation projects, called presidi, had booths
in the one of the pavilions of the Salone, and there
was quite a bit to see. There were also regional booths,
and many booths from which artisan producers were presenting
and selling their foods - hundreds of kinds of cheeses
and cold cuts, truffles, olive all'ascolana, and much
more. The end effect was like an extremely high quality
big city gourmet market, with lots to see and many people
to talk to; the one criticism one could make is that
the registration fees were such, I was told, that some
of the really tiny producers of quality foods couldn't
afford to come.
The other thing Slowfood did a fine job of organizing
was tasting sessions of one sort or another; they weren't
free, but were interesting; I went to one dedicated
to American microbrewery beer and American cheese, and
was both delighted and shocked. Delighted because the
beers assembled by Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of the
Brooklyn Brewery and the cheeses assembled by Rob Kaufelt,
owner of Muray's Cheese Shop in New York, were superb,
and shocked because Rob said that the US FDA is seriously
considering a ban on all cheeses made from unpasteurized
milk. For health reasons, they say, and while it is
possible to catch something from unpasteurized milk,
by the time a cheese has aged for 2 months all the pathogenic
bacteria are dead. And even before then cheese made
from unpasteurized milk is safe; if it weren't there'd
be a tremendous number of sick Europeans, because many
fresh cheeses, for example French Brie or Piemontese
Toma, are extremely popular.
does the cheese only from pasteurized milk law favor?
Big American dairies that can afford pasteurizing equipment.
And who does it harm, in the US? Consumers, who may
find themselves unable to purchase cheeses such as Parmigiano
Reggiano, Grana Padano, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano,
Roquefort, real Cheddar, and the list goes on. But more
importantly, it will harm small American dairy farmers
and sheepherders, who have discovered that making high
quality artisan cheeses gives them a means to survive.
If the FDA approves this law, many will simply go out
of business because they cannot afford the equipment,
while others will collapse more slowly because the quality
of their cheese will decline (pasteurizing makes a dramatic
difference in the flavor of the cheese), and people
will then buy the cheaper industrial versions.
would expect the US National Dairy Association to be
against the provision, but it instead supports it because
the larger members that supply industry have more pull.
This is a classic Slowfood issue, about preserving a
way of life, and giving consumers the option of buying
good quality food. If you're upset by the possibility
of loosing the option of buying cheese made from unpasteurized
milk, Slowfood is setting up a signature campaign.
things aren't rosy in Europe either. There's no move
here to ban raw milk, because the tradition is too firmly
entrenched. But the Bureaucrats of the EEU health service
are well into passing a law that will equate commercial
homogenized milk and with the fresh unhomogenized milk
used by artisan cheesers, thus allowing the big industrial
cheese makers to produce "raw milk" cheeses.
As has often happened before, the health people show
more concern for industrial bottom lines than they do
for the consumers they're supposed to be protecting.
article has been published with the kind permission
of its author, Kyle Phillips. Kyle resides in Florence,
Italy, where he works as a translator, food and travel
writer, and photographer. He is also the Italian Cuisine's
guide at About.com - to visit Italian Cuisine <click
Hub-UK : email@example.com