Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Beginning of Cheese 2013

It is hard to believe, I am actually here. Firstly because I am still so jet lagged. (I am not as young as I used to be let me tell you) But also, it was so very dicey these past few weeks in terms of international events. I was weighing my chances that a nuclear theater might happen in Syria or that retaliations might take place against US citizens on airplanes. Thanks to the Russians, in this respite of nervous peace, some of the world's finest Cheese mongers and makers are gathered in Bra, Italy to celebrate the true art of transforming milk into thousands of different incredible foods. This is also called Slow Food Cheese Festival and happens every two years in this lovely small city in the Piedmont region of Italy.

 As I was wandering the streets of Turin last night in search of fiber, I found a wonderful fruit and vegetable mart. They had a nice selection of regional cheeses, so I splurged on a small slice of runny Gorgonzola to accompany my pear and grapes. The only thing I could think of what how sad vegans and the lactose intolerant must miss out on this pungent gooey magnificence. After a very confusing and circuitous trip from Milan to Turin, I met up with my Macedonian Slow Food Friends. 

I am always struck by the warmth and basic loveliness of these people, and am looking forward to knowing them better as the event progresses. We are staying at the Olympic Village and catching a train each day to the festival. It is hard to describe this event in words other than amazing. I got a lay of the land today, so much to see, there are even cows here, and cheeses from all over the world. Education workshops, tastings, biodiversity information. From what I was observing, it seems as if, how to say this without a groan, at the risk of being cheesy,  that the preservation of traditional methods  of making cheese will actually help save the world. So much is involved in the creation of these delicious wheels of fermented dairy. It all ties into culture, tradition, the environment and the husbandry of animals. For now, I am just literally drinking in the atmosphere, enjoying Bra and chatting with people from all over the world. By preserving these methods, the environment can be improved, economies stabilized and human health enhanced. All the problems that seem to confound experts in what the rest of us see as the collapse of the global merchant economy, can actually be solved by making cheese in the traditional way.

Some initial observations

I enjoyed some ash yogurt from Kenya, this centuries old tradition mixes a keifer like yogurt with a plant ash, to create a grey drink that was actually quite good and actually the most healthy thing here, mixing acidophillus and charcoal together, could not help but tame the tummy with so many different foods and waters.

Cheeses from along the Camino de Compestela de Santiago. Now I can enjoy cheese when I walk the pilgrim way next year.

I learned that the first cheeses in America were transplant methods from England, but back then it was more lucrative to make butter with what milk was available. The Americans started to make cheese and export to England who was making mostly butter at that time. In order to extend the cheese and make it fatter, the Americans started mixing lard into the cheese, so much so, and at such a great cost to the taste, that the English stopped importing the stuff. I thought to myself, wow, there is a tradition for tasteless fatty stuff called American Cheese.

There was a resistance cheese award given out at the opening ceremonies. This award was given to cheese makers whose tradition was preserved under incredible odds. I thought to myself, all the awards that are given out for cheese, food and what not, and here we are watching a herder from Bulgaria whose sheep stock was obliterated by the communists because the family refused to be relocated. The authorities at the time reduced a 500,000 herd to a few hundred to teach them a lesson, and yet the family remains, their small herd remains and they continue to make cheese to this day.

What we value as a modern culture is a constant intrigue to me. As I come out of a culture that rewards a disgruntled teen who rides naked on a wrecking ball and calls it art, whose government can not work together for the good of her people, and I see these shepherds, cheese makers, vintners and bakers, preserving century old traditions of transforming the gifts of their agriculture into the most delicious foods. I look forward to hearing more from these people, who in spite of all that swirls around them in terms of regulations, revolutions, climate change and collapsing economies, continue to make their cheeses, one wheel at a time. I am on a different computer and can not seem to make it do what I want but the picture below is the Macedonian Slow Food Cheese Delegation. More later!

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