Saturday, September 21, 2013

Resist with Cheese

While the Cheese Festival 2013 in Bra is a gastronomic paradise, there is a deeper meaning to all of the festivities. One of the more unique events was the awarding of Cheese Resistance recognition to outstanding Cheese Makers from around the world.

While I was waiting for the opening ceremonies to begin, the Piazza where the Palco Stage had a feeling of a rock concert. There where police and squad cars everywhere, an ambulance on hand and scores of press ready with cameras for the  much anticipated maestro of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini. While I admire Petrini, and will be forever grateful for his vision and passion, to me what makes Slow Food so special is the members and producers that make up the organization.

When I was at my first Terra Madre, what I took away from the experience was how Slow Food is the recognition and celebration of the common man. What culture deems as the lowliest of it's members, Slow Food elevates to the status they deserve. As modern culture isolates, one of the greatest disconnects lies between the eater and the one who provides the food. With Slow Food, the main issue is to re-humanize the food system, to reconnect the eater with the land, the animals and the people who make their daily bread possible. We take so much for granted in the West, and the availability of food just for the asking is the biggest assumption we have.

Watching these humble cheese makers, dairymen and herders get an award for their endurance was very moving. From cheese makers to educators, these humble men simply keep working to make their products. I had been following one of the recipients since 2010 when I first had met him at Terra Madre that year. Sider Sedefchev is a breeder and leader of the Slow Food Karakachan Sheep Presidium in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria. Culinary and Agriculture traditions had been all but destroyed under the communist regime. Before collectivization, the Karakachan sheep numbered above 500,000. The local herders said no to the relocation of their herd, and their horses, dogs and sheep were slaughtered as a result. The herd of sheep now numbers in the hundreds. Thanks to Sedefchev, the breed is now starting to renew itself, making the special milk for the Presidium Green Cheese for Bulgaria.

Sedefchev is working to save the karakachan horses and dogs, as well ad reintroduce the indigenous Kalofer goat. Recently his center suffered a devastating fire, and Slow Food International hopes the award will help him rebuild this vital center that is preserving biodiversity in the Balkans.

Aside from all the awards and efforts, one thing remains, the cheese is amazingly delicious. For the uncultivated palate, it tastes like a cross between feta and blue cheese, but what makes it possible is the Karakachan sheep that forages on the mountain grasses and herbs, and the local air that mellows and ages the cheese in a special way that no other method can reproduce.

Sedefchev is what I consider a modern super hero, someone who against all odds is trying to undo the grave damage of modern political power games, to preserve a rich environmental and ecological heritage for future generations. All with cheese! Now this is a true star, I long for the day when he will be the norm for celebrity news, until then, I am glad for his work and wish him well.

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