To date, we’ve gone to Slow Food’s cheese expo every 4 years: in 2003, 2007, and now 2011, but looking back on what I wrote the last time we attended this epic event, I’m amazed at how much the fair has grown in terms of nations being represented from all over Europe and beyond. Walking down via Principi di Piemonte was a global mini-tour as international cheese presidia booths stood side-by-side, their respective flags waving in the breeze. Ash yogurt from Kenya? Carranzana “cara negra” sheep cheese from the spanish Basque? Raw sheep’s milk feta from Macedonia? This past weekend was the mother lode like no other but if you’d rather drool than go through this mega-post, the entire show starts on Flickr.
International cheese Presidia
Since it’s no problem getting any of the local formaggi here, we skipped the 30 italian cheese presidia and headed straight to the international zone. Sampling was free but specialty items like chocolate truffles made with Bulgaria’s green cheese cherni vit cost a mere 1€. Green mold cheese in a truffle? Hot dang I’d like one please! Produced from sheep’s milk, it has a flavor that reminded MotH of roquefort, and while he didn’t care for it, I thought the combo of cherni vit, chocolate ganache and cocoa powder as brilliant. Holiday idea (and it isn’t new) – chocolate roquefort or gorgonzola truffles…with a glass of barolo chinato.
If there had been a category for unique shapes, these golka from Poland would’ve been a sure contender. The tubular form indicate golka as a cow’s milk cheese, but the spindle-shaped oscypek is made from sheep’s milk. They’re both smoked cheese that reminds me a little of italian scamorza. Another shape were oval bite-size pieces that were heated and served with lingonberry jam (1.50€) although I’m not sure if they have a particular name.
France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Bosnia Herzegovina… so many countries, so little time. At this point we were primed (prime targets!) for a spending spree and got a wedge of raw milk Bellingham Blue from Ireland (at the very top of this post). This was followed by Somerset County artisan cheddar from the UK and carranzana “black face” sheep cheese from Spain.
Cheese Market at Piazza Carlo Alberto and Piazza Roma
If you manage to come out of here smelling like roses then you didn’t step very far into the domain of cheesemakers and affineurs. A mind-boggling, relentless, seemingly never-ending display of all shapes and sizes from all over Europe with a nice showing from USA as well, the market area is for serious palates. It was friggin’ glorious. Parmigiano and mozzarella are staples in the italian kitchen, but I admit that we are fromage junkies and France topped our list. I wasn’t leaving without my époisses, said to be a favorite of Napoleon himself, but we weren’t going home without a stilton either. Smart uniforms, savvy rep skills and impeccable British style made us spend an extraordinary amount of time at Neal’s Yard Dairy (how can you not?!), but thankfully by the grace of some unseen force, we were eventually guided out of there before I fell into a catatonic state from sensory overload.
Street food: no bombetta, no party, and Recco focaccia
Quick, tasty, but not very cheap, the street food section took us less than 15 minutes since we got there when the early bird lines were long gone. First stop: bombetta from Puglia (6€). The tasty pork and cheese bundles were such hot sellers (make any food skewer-friendly and you’ve got a winner) that not even Clooney could’ve swayed the crowd with his Martini.
Next stop: focaccia from Recco. Unlike the thicker, yeast-leavened focaccia that is lovingly dipped into oil and balsamic vinegar across the pond, this yeast-less version is flatter than a pancake. Crescenza cheese between two sheets of dough, evoo, salt and that’s it. Plates of these were going for 5€ and we were lucky to reach the counter when the next hot batch was just being pulled out of the oven. Watching these guys made me a little nostalgic for my old work days… Travel tip: Recco’s next Festa della Focaccia in May 2012!!
Before we go: Mac d’Bra and things I wish we’d done
Naturally the birthplace of Slow Food would not be complete without a jab at its archenemy. This sandwich of grilled (or raw) veal sausage, cheese and lettuce – all of it from Bra or its environs – was a deal at 3€. If that wasn’t enough, shaded cafes and restaurants along the streets appeared as oases of colorful salads, tempting pasta and delicious pizza that added to the already festive atmosphere.
We’re anticipating the 9th edition in 2013 and look forward to what we missed out on, such as the Appuntamenti a Tavola / Dinner Dates. The american-style bbq by Matt Jennings from Farmstead, Inc. would’ve made me one happy camper (50€ with artisanal US brews), and I’m convinced that the meal presented by Christophe Duguin of Au Chapeau Rouge would’ve been divine. Another must are the taste workshops (there were 34!) which can only be described as a foodie’s romp into the Garden of Eating. At a price range between 15-40€, you could easily pick just one or go whole hog and do tastings like:
•2007, 2005, 1999, 1991, 1985 and 1977 vintages of Barolo Monfalletto from Cordero di Montezemoro Winery in Piemonte, paired with superb alpine cheeses.
•French wines and cheeses of Champagne
•Dutch cheeses and wines
•English and irish cheeses and ales
•A fish and cheese tasting that raised an eyebrow (parmigiano on fish is a big no-no in Italy!) when it mentioned milk curds with sea urchin roe among a few other things.
•And butter! Okay so it’s not cheese, but when I looked at Jean-Yves Bordier’s website, in my mind I was reaching for a crusty baguette. Artisan french butter with seaweed, with yuzu, with smoked salt and with Espelette pepper. Bring it. http://www.lebeurrebordier.com
Cheesehounds, see you in a couple of years!