Slow Food

Great Success for Cheese 2007: 150,000 Visitors Over Four Days

Italy - 24 Sep 07

The sixth edition of Cheese, the biannual international exhibition of cheese and all things dairy organized by Slow Food in collaboration with the City of Bra, closed today, Monday September 24, 2007. The four days of the event saw thousands of visitors pouring into the small medieval town of Bra, in Italy’s northeastern Piedmont region. An estimated total of 150,000 people wandered through the streets and piazzas: looking, tasting, learning, chatting with cheesemakers or listening to one of the many concerts. Almost one-third of the visitors came from outside Italy, highlighting the international nature of the festival, which brings together cheeses from countries around the globe: from France and from Australia, from Cape Verde and from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Cheeses from Eastern Europe were the theme of this year’s event, and the stands displaying the Slow Food Presidia from Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and others were always flocked with curious visitors, tasting cheese in a sack, green cheese from Tcherni Vit, smoked Oscypek and other rarities. The Great Hall of Cheese and Enoteca were also crowded at all hours, with a total of 19,000 visitors sipping 60,000 glasses of wine and sampling over 200 different cheeses, including many blue cheeses from Italy, France, Australia, Spain, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland in the House of Blue Cheeses. The Street Food tasting booths, with snacks like flatbread piadina with scquaquerone cheese from Emilia-Romagna, fried pizza from Campania and cheese-filled focaccia from Recco in Liguria, served a total of 32,000 dishes, while at the Great Market the 186 producers and vendors had sold out of almost all their stock. An important element of Slow Food’s mission is taste education, and a total of over 1,400 children and 60 teachers took part in events like The cheese chain and The forms of milk, teaching them about how cheese is made and what makes a cheese good. Concerts with music from around the world were held throughout the day and every evening, and over 12,000 people came to listen to groups and artists of all genres and nationalities like Giuliano Palma and the Bluebeaters, My Awesome Mixtape, the Baptistinha brothers, Banda Osiris and Pete Berryman. The area dedicated to the Slow Food Presidia was visited by many people who were gratifyingly aware of the importance of cheese quality and the preservation of biodiversity. Giorgio Amedeo, a producer of mountain pasture Castelmagno from the Piedmontese Alps (recently baptized a Presidium), said that a total of 40 whole cheeses had been sold, with a combined weight of over 600 pounds. He was particularly struck by the awareness of the public regarding the differences between his artisanal product and the more common version sold in supermarkets. The international exhibitors were tired but content as the event wound down and the displays were dismantled. At the Irish Raw Cow’s Milk Presidium booth, husband and wife cheesemakers Peter and Anita Thomas were ecstatic. Their Bellingham Blue had completely sold out, and they only had a few other raw-milk cheeses to sell today because they had reserved them on purpose. “We brought twice as much as we did to Cheese 2005 and Salone del Gusto put together, and it’s all gone,” said Peter. “Everyone is so enthusiastic. Even in Ireland, we have to coax people to try something a little different, but here they all want the unusual cheeses, like Dilliskus,” which is made with seagrass. Over at the Romanian stand, all the Brânza de Burduf, a Presidium cheese aged in pine-tree bark, was long since gone. There were just a few jars of jam – rosehip, blackberry, rhubarb – left, representing the Saxon Village Preserves Presidium. Cristi Gherghiceanu is the director of Fundatia Adept, a foundation working to preserve biodiversity and develop agriculture in a rural area of Translyvania, and one of the Presidium coordinators. He was very happy with the networking opportunities Cheese had provided. “The Romanian government’s new food safety regulations mean no more raw milk cheeses, unless they are aged over 60 days,” he said. “So we want to develop a hard cheese that we can still make with raw milk, aged in the cellars which everybody has in this area. At Cheese, we have had the chance to network with so many other cheese producers, and learn from them.” Over in the affineurs’ area of the Great Cheese Market, where all the cheese agers and sellers (as opposed to makers) were grouped together, Jason Hinds of Neal’s Yard Dairy described the importance of identifying the affineurs and helping the public understand their important role in the cheese market. This is just the second Cheese in which the affineurs have their own section, and he said the atmosphere there, bringing people together who do the same job, was dynamic and potent, as they shared experiences and learned from each other. Hinds was already looking forward to Cheese 2009, when American farmhouse cheeses will join the European line-up. In short, the event was marked by a strong internationality, serving to inform the public about the immense diversity of cheeses available as well as entertain and feed the thousands of visitors to Bra in these four days.